Ukrainian Easter Egg Fun

by JR Hager
There has never been a time around my house that Mom wasn't working on a Ukrainian egg design. And we arn't even Ukrain. Friends and family members were always eager to stop by to see what Marlene was working on.

 It wouldn't take them long to say, "Wow" when they did see what she has created. And soon after I would always hear, "well, how did you do that?"

Then some people would say, "oh I could never do that." "Oh I'm not talented." "I need a recipe for everything I cook." "Never created a thing in my life." Oh I wish, but I'm not an artist."

But everybody, and I mean everybody, who sat down and gave it a try, and gave themselves patients, would eventually say with a grin, "oh my, that does look nice. I had no Idea." Or if they were too shy to say anything, their expression on their face would say, " Hey, I'm proud of myself!" 

by JR Hager

I love that. That's why I always love it when Mom and I have our classes. When I bring them their finished egg in and I see their eyes light-up. That's a joy, being instrumental in someone's joy and self discovery. It's just like it was with me. I never thought I was 'artsy-fartsy' enough to do a Ukrainian Easter egg until recently. Yes, recently. Funny, all these years that my Mom has been creating these beautiful eggs and I haven't done one till now?



the egg

The egg is very important and starts here.

One will not be able to just go to the nearest grocery store and pick up a dozen eggs and start using them. They will not hold the ink or the dye. Not to add to any conspiracy theories but these eggs are processed in a certain way that leaves a film on the egg. But the yoke of these eggs (yellow yoke) are easiest to remove from the egg because of it's less density than organically farm raised eggs. (orange yoke)

I've experimented with using vinegar and water to wash them before using them. Sometimes it works and sometimes not. You're welcome to use or try other forms of washing the egg, but I've had little success with anything. (if you find something that works please let me know)
In rural Pennsylvania here we have a farm that sells eggs and other dairy products on every street corner, it seems. And the only thing they do to their eggs is to sand them to remove the small chunks of calcium deposits, and that is all.

And this goes for brown eggs as well. And yes you can also use brown eggs for your Ukrainian Easter eggs designs. They are unique and work just fine. Here are a few we've done, to give you an idea. The egg on the bottom is a brown egg.

And yes, you can use larger eggs as well, like duck, goose and ostrich eggs. We are working with these larger eggs now, as we speak, and I will post the eggs when we've completed them.

by JR Hager

the tools

These are the few tools that we use in our classes.

A stylus, known as a pysachok, pysak, pysal'tse, or kystka (kistka), is used to adhere or write with the wax on to the egg. We offer two kinds here. The blue handled kiska, newer design, seems to hold more wax and distributes the wax more evenly on the egg.

Beeswax is used instead of regular candle wax. Candle wax usually have special scents and coloring added that disturb the natural processes of this art. Any wax that is free of these additives will work just fine. We use the candle to heat the stylus to melt the cube of beeswax. After a little puddle of wax is achieved, the stylus can be dipped into it to hold a portioned of melted wax ready to be written on to the egg.

We've added rubber-bands to the list of tools. We use them as guides. I've tied a knot to one end so it will fit smaller eggs. Without the knot the rubber-bands fit nicely over larger eggs.

the dyes

We purchaced our dyes from Amazon. I will list the links for you here. They have lasted for many years. Sometimes we do make our own from naturally dried plants, roots, bark, berries and insects. Yellow was obtained from the flowers of the woadwaxen, and gold from onion skins. Red could be extracted from logwood or cochineal, and dark green and violet from the husks of sunflower seeds and the berries and bark of the elderberry bush. Black dye was made from walnut husks. Experiment. There are many new ways to produce dyes.

the process

Pysanky is made using a wax resist method. Beeswax was heated in a small bowl on the large family stove, and the styluses were dipped into it. The molten wax was applied to the white egg with a writing motion; any bit of shell covered with wax would be sealed, and remain white. Then the egg was dyed yellow, and more wax applied, and then orange, red, purple, black. (The dye sequence is always light to dark). Whatever is covered with wax will remain that color. After the final color, usually red, brown or black, the wax was removed by heating the egg in the stove (10 minutes at 200 degrees) and gently wiping off the melted wax. Another method is to briefly dip the egg into boiling water. (I've never used this method)

the history

The art of the decorated egg in Ukraine, or the pysanka, probably dates back to ancient times. No actual ancient examples exist, as eggshells are fragile. In pre-Christian times, Dazhboh was one of the main deities in the Slavic pantheon; birds were the sun god's chosen creations, for they were the only ones who could get near him. Humans could not catch the birds, but they did manage to obtain the eggs the birds laid. Thus, the eggs were magical objects, a source of life. The egg was also honored during rite-of-Spring festivals––it represented the rebirth of the earth. The long, hard winter was over; the earth burst forth and was reborn just as the egg miraculously burst forth with life. The egg, therefore, was believed to have special powers.

With the advent of Christianity, via a process of religious syncretism, the symbolism of the egg was changed to represent, not nature's rebirth, but the rebirth of man. Christians embraced the egg symbol and likened it to the tomb from which Christ rose. With the acceptance of Christianity in 988, the decorated pysanka, in time, was adapted to play an important role in Ukrainian rituals of the new religion. Many symbols of the old sun worship survived and were adapted to represent Easter and Christ's Resurrection.

In modern times, the art of the pysanka was carried abroad by Ukrainian emigrants to North and South America, where the custom took hold, and concurrently banished in Ukraine by the Soviet regime (as a religious practice), where it was nearly forgotten. Museum collections were destroyed both by war and by Soviet cadres. Since Ukrainian Independence in 1991, there has been a rebirth of the art in its homeland.

The oldest "real" pysanka was excavated in L'viv in 2013, and was found in a rainwater collection system that dates to the 15th or 16th century. The pysanka was written on a goose egg, which was discovered largely intact, and the design is that of a wave pattern. The second oldest known pysanka was excavated in Baturyn in 2008, and dates to the end of the 17th century.

 by JR Hager

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