Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Art of Ukrainian Easter Eggs -- Pysanky

This is the season during which many (at least those of us living north of the equator) continue to celebrate the holidays associated with spring.

My heritage is Ukrainian and Ukrainian is my first language.

Although I was born in Canada (and was in Canada last week to give a talk at the University of Waterloo), I can say that I grew up in Yonkers, New York, before going off to Brown University, my alma mater (four times over since I have 4 Brown degrees including the PhD).

As I was growing up, every spring, a group of us would gather to make pysanky, which are Ukrainian Easter eggs. This is a delicate endeavor, requiring steady hands, plus a beeswax candle, a stylus, and various colorful dyes. The beeswax is layered over the eggs in patterns to preserve the latest dye color that the egg has been dipped into. One starts with "drawing" a pattern with beeswax on the white, undyed egg, proceeds to dye it in a yellow color, draws another pattern, and proceeds in this fashion, all the way through the final and darkest color, which is, typically, black.

The raw eggs can first be blown out of their contents, which requires almost a surgeon's skill. Then it's time for for their "painting" and decorating. I always worked on my pysanky with eggs, whose contents had not been removed (and, luckily, over the years, we have broken no more than 2 such pysanky -- the odor can be quite unpleasant, so handle with care).

Yesterday, after dropping our daughter off at Deerfield Academy -- her team was off to Andover for a big Saturday track meet, we stopped by a bazaar in South Deerfield, where some pysanky were being sold, along with many baked goods, and even beautiful Ukrainian ceramics. I was overcome by nostalgia. There were several pysanky made out of large goose eggs, and they were simply stunning!

The above pysanky are from our collection and we have acquired them from family and friends (a few underneath the top ones we even made ourselves). The various symbols on the pysanky have specific meanings -- I especially like the delicate wheat patterns and the animal patterns, in addition to the embroidery-like designs. Many have agricultural themes.

You can find out more about how to make beautiful pysanky here.

Eggs symbolize birth, and the making of pysanky is just one tradition that gets handed down from generation to generation, and whose art and beauty everyone can enjoy.