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Thursday, March 28, 2013
Have you seen pysanky? The Ukrainian Easter eggs provide a history of a people.
While in America they might be best known as a vehicle for grocery store kits, other cultures hold Easter eggs on a high and artful status. In Eastern Europe, notably Ukraine, a method for creating gorgeously colorful and elaborate eggs is called Pysanky.
While Pysanky looks (and is) complicated and time-consuming, it works the same way as drawing on an egg with a crayon: Wax is applied to areas where you don’t want color to appear, making a design when the egg is dyed. In Pysanky, melted beeswax is applied in a pattern with a stylus called a kistka, and then the egg is dyed. More wax is drawn on the egg and it’s dyed again. This is repeated several times, creating vibrantly colored and richly layered designs.
Even if the theories behind crayon-drawn egg designs and Pysanky are the same, the actual processes are vastly different—with the latter certainly not intended for Easter brunch deviled eggs.
Eggs for Pysanky are raw blown eggs, with the liquid whites and yolks very carefully drained out of a tiny hole in the eggshell. The kistka can be either wood or electronic, and the dyes are specially formulated to be richer and brighter than standard food coloring. Shellac or varnish are sometimes used to seal the egg for display purposes.
The patterns on the eggs are nothing short of fine art. Geometric stars, grids, diamonds and other shapes are used as frames or pattern repeats, while specific images are symbolic: Birds sitting at rest for fulfillment of wishes, roses for love, the sun for growth, fish for Christianity and deer for prosperity. Colors are also symbolic: Blue for good health, green for hope, white for innocence, red for happiness and hope and orange for endurance. The detailed designs and vibrant colors on a pysanka egg are enough to turn heads, as they’re more than just an Easter decoration – they’re a genuine art form. The Ukrainian Easter eggs are beautiful and intricate, crafted with a steady hand over such a fragile surface. They also provide a history of a people. Pysanka eggs date back to at least 988 AD when Ukraine adopted Christianity and pysanka became entrenched in the religious symbolism of Easter.
Derived from the Ukrainian word for "to write," the pagan art form celebrated the harvest and the harvester with natural images and colors. Wheat symbolized work. Livestock represented wealth. White stood for purity; green for growth; black for darkness.
When Christianity was introduced in the Ukraine in the 10th century, the eggs rolled with the changes. Just as Christianity adopted pagan symbols, the eggs became a canvas for Christian expression, with crosses and dots that symbolize the tears of Mary.
The Ukrainian pysanka was believed to possess an enormous power not only in the egg itself, which harbored the nucleus of life, but also in the symbolic designs and colors which were drawn upon the egg in a specific manner. The intricately colored eggs were used for various social and religious occasions and were considered to be a talisman, a protector against evil, as well as harbingers of good.
A step-by-step guide to pysanka eggs
1. Clean the surface of your egg using vinegar. A dirt and oil-free surface helps retain the dye.
2. Heat the copper end of the kistka (stylus) above a candle and scoop a little bit of beeswax into the top of the metal funnel. Reheat the tip of the kistka and, using paper towel, wipe away any excess wax that melted onto the wires holding the funnel to the handle.
3. Let the melted wax come out of the fine end of the kistka and draw on the egg’s surface. Use the wax to “seal” the color in on the egg. Any white spot you cover in wax will remain white on the finished product.
4. When you’ve finished your white designs, carefully place the egg in the yellow dye bath. Let it soak and absorb the color for a few minutes.
5. Repeat Step 3. Any melted wax that hardens on the now yellow surface will seal in the yellow and that color will remain in those spots on the finished product.
6. Soak the egg in the red dye-bath, then use the wax to seal in your red designs. Then repeat this step using the black dye. (Since it’s your last color, you don’t need to seal in your black spots with wax.) Once you’ve gotten the hang of three colors, consider adding orange, green and blue.
7. Remove the wax by carefully holding your egg above the candle flame. Wipe the wax away using paper towel. “Keep the clean end downward to avoid getting smoke on the exposed egg. Likewise, when wiping wax away, push the stroke away from the clean part of the egg,” Lang advises.
8. Apply a coat of varnish to your egg to seal in your colors and make them more vibrant. “Pysanka” is meant to last 70 years or more. Happy Easter!!
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