Residents filling baskets with pysanky eggs
From ancient Christian traditions to egg rolling contests on the White House lawn, decorated eggs have been a part of spring celebrations for centuries.
The tombs of the pharaohs yielded decorated egg shells. At the court of the Russian czar the eggs were fashioned by imperial jeweler Karl Faberge. Among the most beautiful decorated eggs are those of the Ukrainian culture, the “pysanka.”
The tradition continues in the United States and in the region, where the art of decorating eggs known as pysanky is growing in popularity.
“I didn’t even realize pysanky was part of my heritage. I had always admired them and thought they were such beautiful pieces of art. One day I learned of a class at the old YMCA in Uniontown and I decided to take it. I was a natural at the art,” said Bonnie Balas, of Uniontown, who has been practicing pysanky for 25 years.
Lois Winslow and Dolores Logoyda, both of Perryopolis, appreciate the beauty of pysanky and want to share it with their family.
“Giving the gift of pysanky is a wonderful gift. To be able to create such a beautiful, intricately designed egg is amazing. We want to pass this tradition on to our granddaughters. We have taught the traditional pysanky, stained glass eggs, and the drop and pull technique. Our hope is that our granddaughters will pass the tradition on to their daughters,” Logoyda said.
The origination of pysanky is traditionally credited to the Ukrainians. Egg decorating is shared by almost every Slavic country, although the techniques and symbolism differ.
According to Balas, pysanky’s origins date back more than 2,000 years. The peasants believed that an egg, the pagan symbol of life, contained great powers, and each year women decorated eggs in celebration of spring’s arrival.
Balas noted that spring and eggs became synonymous. The egg symbolized the rebirth of the earth after the long winter, promising new hope, life, health and prosperity.
After the Ukraine accepted Christianity in 988 A.D., the Ukrainian people adapted the significance of the egg to religious traditions, particularly those relating to Easter and the resurrection. They decorated eggs in celebration of the resurrection of Christ and called them Easter eggs.
According to Ukrainian legend, as long as pysanky are decorated, goodness will prevail over evil throughout the world. The pre-Christian belief still prevails that the egg bestows special powers and blessings to the receiver. The Ukrainian people believed that a bowlful of pysanky kept in the home would serve, not only as a colorful display, but also as protection against lightning and fire.
Only white eggs are used for pysansky and those selected are the most symmetrical in shape. pysansky is not restricted to hens’ eggs, but include duck, goose, ostrich and quail eggs. Some pysanky artists, such as Winslow, also use emu eggs.
Each design is unique.
Pysanka is derived from the Ukrainian verb “pysanty,” which means “to write.” The designs are drawn on the egg with a special stylus, a kistka, which has a cone-like tip, or a pin head which is heated and dipped in melted beeswax. The eggs are designed with pictures and colors with symbolic meanings.
Designs are drawn on the egg with melted beeswax before the egg is dipped into the dye. The area covered by the wax resists the dye.
Wax is applied with the kistka. The kistka is heated over a candle and then dipped into a cake of beeswax. The molten wax can then be used to make designs on the egg. This process is repeated for each color of dye so that a multicolored design is created. After the last dye bath, the wax is removed and a jewel-like design appears. The finished egg is then varnished to preserve the colors. This is known as the batik method.
In addition to the natural white, each egg usually has four colors. The egg must go into a dye bath for each color, beginning with the lightest and working up to the darkest.
Today, the dyes used in pysanky are powdered and produce vibrant colors. Long ago Ukrainian artists used plants to create natural dyes. Yellow dye, which represents spirituality, was made with onion skins, goldenrod or apple bark. Red dye, which represents love, was made with red onion skins or the juice from beets. Dye recipes were jealously guarded and passed from mother to daughter.
All pysanky work is done by hand. The three distinct pysanky styles include geometric (the same design or motif appears repeatedly on the egg), nature motifs (stylized leaves, flowers, or animals are blended in an overall design or create an elaborate border), and trypillian meander (meandering swirls), which is the oldest form of pysanky art.
It may take up to 12 hours to complete a pysanka, depending upon the intricacy of the design and the number of colors used.
Some practice the drop-and-pull method when creating a pysanka. One such local artist is Joe Borytsky, of Fairchance, who has been working with pysanky for the past four years.
“My wife was a volunteer at Mt. Macrina. Helen Timo, who is from Bentleyville, worked with my wife and gave her some pysanky eggs. I became so fascinated with the eggs and the designs that I wanted to learn more,” said Borytsky.
Borytsky took classes from Sister Rita Keshock at Mt. Macrina and learned the scratch technique. Later, after Timo learned of Borytsky’s interest in pysanky, she invited him to her home and gave him private lessons in the art.
“Mrs. Timo is a wonderful artist. … She taught me many wonderful techniques of pysanky. I enjoy sharing those techniques today with others,” said Borytsky.
In the drop-and-pull method, Borytsky explained, the craftsman will use the head of a pin, which is fastened to a pencil’s eraser, and dip it in melted beeswax , quickly drop it on the egg and then pull the pin away.
“This technique makes wonderful designs. You have the ability to make dots, or teardrops, as they are known. You can also color your wax,” said Borytsky.
“People see the pysanka, whether they be the traditional batik or the drop and pull, and are intrigued. People want to learn more about pysanky. The eggs are miniature works of art,” said Balas.
“That is how I became inspired to learn how to make my own pysanky,” said Janet Kocerka, of Bobtown. “I was at an ethnic festival and saw the beautiful designs. I wanted to learn more so I could make the eggs.”