The idea for making lamps out of ostrich eggs came to Nili Lahav eight years ago.
"I had an ostrich egg and one day it broke. I took a piece of it and looked through it at the light, and I thought it would make a beautiful lamp," she explains.
Lahav buys unfertilized ostrich eggs from local ostrich farmers. The farmers incubate the eggs for 10 days before determining if they are appropriate for sale. Then they put the eggs through a cleaning and disinfection process.
The first thing Lahav does with an egg is make a hole at the base for a small bulb. Then the painting process begins.
"I start with a thin, black line that then evolves into a colorful, symbolic design," says Lahav.
The elaborate curling motifs she uses are reminiscent of ornate Indian mandalas.
"Every design is different, and each one comes from my imagination, but I do use national symbols from all over the world on some of the eggs," she says.
After the painted design is finished, tiny holes are drilled into the egg around the painted pattern to allow small rays of light to emerge. Lahav says these openings are intended to shine like little sparkling diamonds. Lahav uses a special durable, long-lasting paint to coat the egg's surface and then tops the design with a sealant to protect it. She says that the lamps can stay on continuously without a problem.
"The bulbs are very small and they do not reach high temperatures, so you never have to turn them off," she says. "The bulbs are easy to change and the lamps are easy to clean."
Each egg takes at least five hours to make, and according to Nili's husband, Sharon Lahav, who works with her selling the lamps, their prices do not reflect the amount of work that goes into each piece.
"We charge between NIS 150 and NIS 200 for each lamp," says Sharon, "but for a half-day's work, it doesn't end up being much money."
Sharon sells the lamps at fairs across Israel, at an artists' co-op in Zichron Ya'acov and at the Nahalat Binyamin market in Tel Aviv that meets on Tuesdays and Fridays.
After Sharon and Nili married two years ago, Sharon decided to quit his job and help his wife with her artwork full-time.
"People are looking for new things that they haven't seen before when they come to an artists' market," says Sharon. "We have something very unique to offer them."
The soft light of the lamps is designed to provide a calm ambiance in any room, and Lahav says she has customers who use them for meditation, for night lights in a baby's room and for decoration in a space dedicated to relaxation.
"Making these eggs was part of an artistic voyage where I was seeking to find a magical combination of colors, shapes and materials," says Lahav, "and it's very emotional for me to hear how much people are enjoying them at home."
The lamp-making process is challenging and time-consuming, as the eggs are extremely fragile.
Lahav says it is difficult to be an artist in Israel. She says many people don't understand that the price of the lamps reflects the time and energy that go into making an original, handmade work of art.
But for the most part, people are excited when they see the lamps, she says.
"We try to sell them at night, so that people can really see the effect of the light coming through the small holes and feel how magnetic they are."
For more information, visit www.nililahav.com or call Sharon at 052-297-2163.