An Egg-ceptional Opportunity: Alumna chosen to decorate state Easter egg for White House collection
March 18, 2008
While decorating eggs is usually an activity that takes place near the Easter holiday, Jill Burriss spent most of the Christmas season preparing an Easter egg for this year.
But then, Burriss' colorful creation isn't a typical Easter egg, and you won't find it nesting carefully in a basketful of green grass. The 1996 Lander University alumna's Easter egg is currently on display at the White House Visitor Center, representing the state of South Carolina as part of the 2008 Easter Egg Collection. In March, she and her husband Michael, also a Lander graduate, traveled to Washington, D.C., to view the 51-egg collection and meet first lady Laura Bush.
In November, the state poultry commission called on Burriss, an art teacher at Southwood Middle School in Anderson, to design and decorate the 2008 state Easter egg, which she painted with a scene of Charleston's famous Rainbow Row. "When they asked me to represent the state, I didn't even have to think about my decision. I knew it would be an amazing opportunity, and I felt very humbled and honored that they would ask me," Burriss, of Anderson, said.
According to the White House Web site, the Easter Egg Collection, coordinated by the American Egg Board, is a tradition that began in 1994, and the annual display features an egg from each state and Washington, D.C. Local artists are selected to decorate the commemorative eggs, which are placed into the White House's permanent collection following the Easter season and archived in a presidential library.
Burriss, who earned a degree in visual arts with education emphasis from Lander and a master's degree in education from Lesley University in Massachusetts, said she has always had an interest in art, particularly in painting with watercolor and oils. While artists are free to use a variety of artistic techniques and materials on the outside - and even inside - of their state eggs, Burriss said she opted to stick with her passion and simply paint the outside of the shell.
The eggs, which are genuine chicken eggs, must first be emptied of their contents and Burriss said the process was tricky and extremely time-consuming at first. After mastering that step, she began practicing painting on about eight eggs. Using a photo of Charleston she took while in college, Burriss began to carefully layer watercolor and gouache on the eggs, which each took up to 12 hours to complete.
"Rainbow Row was the first thing that popped into my head when they asked me to design the egg, and no one had ever used that theme for our state," Burriss said. "The buildings had to be drawn on the egg first and the perspective had to be correct. The hardest part was adding the intricate details - the molding and the railings - to the buildings.
"I made sure I didn't drink any caffeine before I started," she added, laughing.
When the eggs were complete, Burriss said she selected the two best from the group to be shipped for the display, opting to give the rest of the practice eggs away as Christmas presents.
In March, the Burrisses were invited to Washington, D.C., to view the egg and entire collection. Over the span of a few days, the couple toured the capital and White House, met the first lady and enjoyed a brunch with other egg artists from across the nation.
"I went to Washington as a child, but I didn't truly appreciate it like I do now. As an artist, one of the parts I enjoyed most was seeing the phenomenal collection of artwork in the White House," she said. "The whole trip was wonderful and it gave me a desire to do something great for this country."
Following the Easter season, Burriss' egg will be removed from public display and archived in either the Bush or Clinton presidential library, she said. A photo gallery of the Easter Egg Collection will also be added to the White House Web site.
While she doesn't expect to be painting any elaborate Easter eggs in the near future, Burriss said her experience will stay with her for years to come. She has even been inspired to teach egg decorating to her students as a cultural history project.
"If I were ever asked to do this again for the state, I would certainly jump at the chance," she said. "It has been an opportunity of a lifetime for me."