Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Art of Pysanky.

Eastertide Greetings!

Very few people have not decorated eggs at one time or other in their life. Eggs are a symbol of new life, reminding us of Christ's resurrection from the dead. Just as the little chick breaks through the shell of the egg, Jesus came forth from the tomb.

Today many eggs are decorated with symbols that have nothing to do with the resurrection to bring back the eggs to the original symbolism, why not decorate the eggs with liturgical symbols or spiritual themes. This can be used as a challenge for all those budding artists in the family. There are numerous ways to decorate eggs, but one easy way is to take Crayola Crayons® (this brand works best) on a plain boiled egg. Color the egg with different designs and symbols, and then the eggs are dyed in food coloring, available at any food store. Using white, yellow, and other light colors to create designs on the eggs result in an interesting contrast against the darker colors of the dyes.

Some suggested symbols:

Symbols of the Resurrection: Easter lily, butterfly, peacock, bursting pomegranate, the phoenix, the sparrow, the bee, the egg, Jonah and the fish;

Easter scenes: an empty tomb, an empty cross with a white cloth hanging, lamb with banner, Christ in white garments, angels at the tomb;

Other religious symbols: crosses, doves, lambs, triangle (for the Trinity), grapes, chalice, fish, Chi-Rho, Alpha and Omega;

Joyful phrases: "Alleluia, He is Risen!" "Christ is Risen, Alleluia!", "The Lord is Risen!", "This is the day the Lord has made, alleluia!"; "Christ has become our paschal sacrifice."

Special eggs from the Slovakian, particularly Ukrainian tradition, calledpysanky” are created through a process of dyes and wax. These are beautiful works of art, and not edible, but many decorative ideas can be used for the hard-boiled eggs until one can create true pysanky. Every mark and color on the egg has some symbolism. Some examples: ribbons, lines or repeated geometric patterns which encircle the egg with no beginning or end symbolize eternity or eternal life, animals symbolizing wishes of fertility, wheat means good health, wishes for a bountiful harvest and reminder of the Eucharist, flowers meaning love, good will and charity. Dots or circles symbolize the tears of Mary.

A good friend who was a psanky artist volunteered to share her hobby with our homeschooling group almost 14 years ago, just as she had shared it with many school students, as she was an elementary school teacher for many years before having several children herself. Firstly she assisted in gathering the specific supplies necessary to begin the craft at a Ukrainian store beforehand. There aren’t many specific tools to gather for such a hobby, mainly a “kitska”, a small sheet of pure beeswax, a small candle, old margarine containers to mix the dyes before beginning so they settle well for very good coverage of the eggs while working on the project. A note of interest of the dye colors, if one uses a glass jar; they can be reused the next year if they are strained out using an old piece of nylon to clear any hard bits which settled over the course of the year.

A "kitska" is the main tool used to apply the wax

When the day arrived to teach the older group of teens, she began by sharing the historical background of the art, with her enthusiastic love for it bubbling over when explaining how she began the art over the years. Papers were passed around featuring lined templates for drawing their sketches onto; and all the while she also maintained a continual love for showing the incredible liturgical symbolisms used for creating special and cherished creations.

A pysanky artist only works on their new egg creations during lent, firstly by sketching and praying on new designs on a paper template, praying and fasting alongside the project/projects during the entire six weeks of Lent.

Most pysanky artists are particular about the eggs they choose for their designs and we were honored to view her collection many times through the years since our initial lessons. One gorgeous particular creation was designed on a flawless ostridge egg, very large in size and most beautiful with many colors and wonderful designs filling its surface.

Concentrating on his artwork

The eggs though are very delicate as the first step is to puncture a tiny hole at each end of the egg, then gradually make the larger end of the egg’s hole a wee bit larger in diameter, working ever so carefully while doing so or it will crack or break. The next step was so joyful (NOT) to everyone, each becoming grossed out at the thought and at the sight of placing their mouths over the small tiny hole, having to blow out the contents of the egg out the larger hole into a bowl below it. Yes, the lovely scrambled raw egg didn’t look most pleasant all the time dribbling down, but once the egg was clear, it was washed carefully and stood up to allow the water to drip out and dry inside. The egg was now ready to begin the process after the template sketches were complete. (Handy tip; three years later we found there was an actual device to do this quickly and not having to blow our cheeks out in the process.)

The eggs are empty, time to wash them up.

The kitzka is a small tool used to “draw” the wax onto the pencil lines for the design for the dye steps. The candle is lit, and bits of the beeswax are gathered into the small holder, placing it over the candle to heat and melt it for the ease of easy placement on the egg, as if drawing with it. Gradually, once the design begins to take shape, the egg is then placed into the dye colors beginning with the lightest color to the darkest along the way.

If you CLICK HERE, you will be directed to a Ukrainian website with a diagram showing step by step instructions on how to complete a design on an egg.

Using the "kitska" tool

Colors used on pysanky also hold special significance which can be incorporated on regular Easter eggs. They are as follows;

White: purity and innocence
Yellow: wisdom, recognition, harvest and reward
Orange: strength, endurance and ambition
Red: happiness, hope or passion
Green: sign of spring, hope and innocence
Blue: good health
Purple: royal color, faith and trust
Brown: earth and mountain color, harvest color, positive symbolizing happiness
Grey: not a positive color
Black: strong color, meaning of remembrance

One specially decorated egg can be designed as the "Alleluia Egg," or "Golden Egg" which is usually golden or yellow, with Alleluia incorporated in the decoration. If the family has an Easter egg hunt on Easter Sunday, this egg can be the egg to win the special prize.

Here a link to a Ukrainian gift shop to price out the goodies for pysanky and see other examples of eggs. CLICK HERE TO VIEW

Or, if you prefer NOT to have the mess accompanying the craft in your home and would prefer to purchase a finished Lenten project instead, check out THIS LINK HERE for a wonderful store, but expect HUGE costs.

Two great books for the family to read on the topic;

Easter Eggs for Anya:
A Ukrainian Celebration of New Life in Christ
(Traditions of Faith from Around the World)

Rechenka's Eggs
by Patricia Polacco

Over many years, Lent became a time in our family and within either our friend’s families to begin psanky, at home or meeting as a group. Many eggs graced our Easter table over the years, brittle, as they might have been with little ones always tempted to grab a closer look to shrill of squeals as a result.

Creating from the template he made

Many of these eggs have gone to new homes, the homes of the artist who created them, though I still have in my possession a few very beautiful ones. The light green egg in the foreground is yet complete with the wax still covering some of the design. But, we treasure them dearly and they were not placed onto the table this year as I just found them myself. Note to self; Shop for new dyes for next year early!

The last of the eggs left in our home

Just as Christmas does not end abruptly on Christmas Day - so too does Easter not become complete until the Feast of Pentecost with the entire Eastertide time being a joyful and lovely season within the Liturgical year itself. Just a thought of my own here, but, why not keep things like these within easy viewing and enjoy them longer? We will be….