Source: Sherman Publications

Eggstravagant art
Rich culture packaged in ornate shell

by CJ Carnacchio

March 14, 2012

Coloring eggs for Easter isn’t just a child’s activity.

For some people, it’s an expression of a rich cultural and religious history that dates back to ancient times.

Such is the case with Ukrainian Easter eggs, or pysanky, the making of which was the focus of a March 10 workshop at the Oxford Public Library led by Rochester Hills resident and folk artist Susana Woloson.

Ukrainian Easter eggs feature intricate patterns, geometric designs and symbolic images, all of which are created by writing or drawing on the egg with hot wax, then repeatedly dying it in various colors.

Woloson, who learned the craft from her part-Ukrainian father, explained the process of creating pysanky basically utilizes the “same principle” as tie-dying a t-shirt. Just as the dye won’t color the shirt wherever there’s a rubber band present, it won’t color an egg wherever there’s wax coating it.

The craft began in ancient times and was later adopted by Ukrainian Christians.

“They thought the egg was the perfect symbol of rebirth and Christ rising from the tomb,” Woloson said. “There’s a legend that says that as the Blessed Mother was carrying a basket of eggs to market, she came upon the scene of Christ being crucified. Her tears fell on the eggs and transformed into beautiful designs. As the basket tipped over, the eggs rolled out and this craft spread all over the world.”

Many of eggs are decorated with religious symbols such as the cross, the triangle (symbolizing the Holy Trinity) and a triangle with a crisscross pattern, which represents a fishing net and Christ’s status as “the fisher of men.” Other images include fir trees and horses (representing health), roosters (representing

fertility and prosperity for farmers), the sun (symbolizing good fortune) and forsythia, the first flower of spring in the Ukraine.

Woloson indicated pysanky were traditionally given as gifts among Ukrainians.

“These were like little greeting cards,” she said. “If you gave an egg with a horse on it and curlicues, meaning eternity, you’re wishing someone an eternity of health and prosperity.”

Although people in other countries, such as Poland and Romania, engage in this form of folk art, Ukrainian Easter eggs are noted for their intricate patterns.

“What makes these look so distinct is the repeating geometric design,” Woloson said. “You usually don’t see any random or haphazard patterns. It’s the same design over and over and over.”

Woloson noted it usually takes her anywhere from three to five hours to create one of her pysanky.

The eggs are usually dyed in traditional Ukrainian colors such as orange, yellow and red. However, Woloson usually finishes her eggs in black dye. “It’s like outlining the design with a black marker,” she said. “It really makes all the designs pop.”

Woloson noted that traditionally, raw eggs are used to make pysanky “because the colors hold better.”

When the eggs are done, she usually hollows them out, so “they’ll keep longer.”

However, if someone chooses to leave the egg’s yolk and white intact, it will “eventually dry out.”

Woloson advised would-be pysanky-makers against leaving their eggs in the sun because the colors will fade or they can “break open and ooze” from the heat.

She also warned against placing them under hot lights as they may explode such as one of hers did at the Bloomfield library.

“I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it,” Woloson said. “There were pieces everywhere.”

An exhibit of Woloson’s Ukrainian Easter eggs is on display at the Oxford Public Library until mid-April.