Monday, 4 June 2012

Pysanky - The Ukrainian Easter Egg

The Ukrainian Easter Egg, the Pysanka, is recognized world over, as a miniature masterpiece, a perfect little "symbol of the universe", and it all fits into your hand.  The evolution of this little work of genius traces the traditions, beliefs, thoughts and feelings of the common person, representing life itself, through aesthetically pleasing symbols and ornaments. 

Deana Diduch at the Calgary Ukrainian Festival
Pysanky can be found in museums everywhere in the world, and in cultural heritage collections far and wide.  They appear in collections everywhere the Ukrainian diaspora has set roots, and then some.  Hugely disparate aesthetic tastes everywhere appreciate the Ukrainian pysanky as some of the finest examples of Ukrainian traditional art.

The pysanka represents life itself.  A tiny symbol of life - the egg, onto which symbols of joy, travails, faith, beauty and pain are written, over the course of time dries up and becomes a beautiful little tomb.  It's the story of life itself, a universal expression, a symbol of birth, life, death, with the hope of resurrection. 

Deana Diduch was demonstrating this beautiful art at the Calgary Ukrainian  Festival in June 2012.  Formerly from Saskatchewan, this Calgarian cherishes her ancestral heritage, and sees the future in every pysanka she writes.  Breathing life into the designs, she knows that besides appreciating their aesthetic value, they are a little talisman of good fortune.  If you have ever received a gift of a pysanka, you have to recognize the deeply personal sentiment it carries.  The pysanky in her collection are truly masterworks, intricate and layered with symbolism, which make them both deeply traditional and fetchingly contemporary. 

                                                                  Imagine one, or perhaps a handful of these beautiful pysanky displayed in your home.  You could select designs for their symbols, or perhaps select them for the stories they tell.  It would be amazing to have a collection such as Deana's in a color coordinated to your home decor!

You write a pysanka.  Using a traditional writing tool called a kistka, you deposit melted bee's wax through a little funnel, onto a raw egg.  The wax becomes embedded in the egg shell, afterwhich you dip the egg in colored dye.  This "batik" process is repeated over a sequence of lighter to darker color dyes.  With the design perfectly encased in beeswax, one gently melts the wax both to reveal the design and give the egg shell a polished luster.  Over the course of time, the porous eggshell allows the egg contents to dry to dust, leaving a perfectly firm eggshell which can be preserved for tens of years, or more. 
                                                                             If you are in Calgary, you may want to purchase supplies to make Pysanky yourself.  Remember to consult with a truly qualified instructor - there are many who "have done Ukrainian eggs" but have very little deep understanding of the symbols and traditions.  I have seen "experts" allow children to scribble designs on the egg, which misses the perfect opportunity to help little ones recognize symbols in their daily lives.  We are, afterall, the symbolic species. 
I know the women at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada, Calgary Collection at 404 Meredith Road NE, 403-264-3437, have a gift shop where they sell the pysanka supplies.  Recently I purchased a beginners kit for $12! You can get to Europa Express on Edmonton Trail NE, but then again you can go online to for more.

Learning to do pysanky is a very beautiful thing.  If you are ambitious you can take a class through ACUA,  The Alberta Council for Ukrainian Arts, but lately I have heard there are many arts schools that have embedded Pysanka art in their curricula.  Amazingly, someone recently told me that there is an art college in Nova Scotia where hundreds of neophites are learning how to make this "masterpiece in your hand".  Perhaps you might join the trend?
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