This week some of my adult students were treated to a demonstration of the art of pysanky. Pysanky are colorful Easter eggs that are decorated using beeswax and dyes applied in layers. The craft originated in the Ukraine and is also practiced in neighboring slavic countries. Pysanky is derived from a Ukrainian word meaning to write.
We were invited to the home of one of my students, Marianne, to view the process. She learned the art of pysanky as a child, watching her mother create intricate designs on eggs using the wax resist method. Marianne’s maternal grandparents came from Poland, and her paternal grandparents from Czechoslovakia (two countries where pysanky is a popular Easter tradition).
Marianne used the head of a common pin to apply the molten wax when she first learned pysanky. Later on she learned to use the traditional stylus tool called a kistka. The kistka has a tiny brass or copper cup and funnel tip for writing on the eggs. These days Marianne uses an electric stylus. She presses the heated stylus into a cake of dark-tinted beeswax to do her egg writing. Beeswax is preferred because it is a better sealant than candle wax. We watched as she carefully drew tiny designs on the egg, immersing it in jars of yellow, orange, green, and finally black liquid dye after each application of wax designs.
After the black dye bath Marianne held the egg up to a candle flame to melt the wax lines. With a paper towel she wiped off the melted wax, revealing the brightly colored designs she had created. We were all delighted to see the resulting masterpiece! And we decided that next spring we’ll try to create our own pysanky eggs in a Blue Church Art class (with Marianne’s expert guidance, of course!)
When Marianne was a child her family attended Easter services at the Russian Orthodox Church in Catasaqua, Pennsylvania. Each family would bring a Pascha (Easter) basket to the church to be blessed after the service. By tradition, the baskets were to contain certain food items: ham, kielbasa sausage, horseradish, sweet pascha bread, salt, butter, and...of course...pysanky eggs! At the end of the service the priest would bless the Pascha baskets and the families would head home and “chow down” to celebrate the end of the Lenten season.
Marianne has taught her own children how to create pysanky eggs, and is now teaching her grandchildren the craft. When she was an elementary school teacher she introduced her students to the art of psyanky, too. If any students were interested enough to give up precious playground time for a pysanky lesson, Marianne would teach them the age-old craft. Lucky students!
Blue Church Art