The perfect EGG: the art of "psanky"
Most everyone can remember the excitement of dyeing Easter eggs as a child.
Boiling eggs, making dyes and mixing colors were all part of the days leading up to a candy-filled Easter celebration.
Our modern American culture has found efficient ways of consolidating that experience. Stores sell already-colored plastic eggs which you can fill with candy. Dyeing eggs might become a tradition left behind.
But don’t tell that to Pamela Williams.
Williams is the director of the Sierra Nevada Children’s Museum on Donner Pass Road and a big egg enthusiast. In fact, she decorates and sells her goose eggs to an art gallery in Colorado.
Williams also teaches an adult egg decorating at the museum. The class emphasizes the cultural significance of Ukrainian Easter Egg decorating and blends those concepts with our own American traditions.
“Pysanky” is a 2,000-year-old art of decorating eggs that developed in the Ukraine. Before the time of Christ, Ukranian people decorated eggs believing that great powers were embodied in the egg. Eggs symbolized the release of the earth from the shackles of winter and the coming of hope and prosperity in Spring.
With the advent of Christianity, Easter eggs symbolized the Resurrection and a promise of eternal life.
Legend has it that as long as pysanky are decorated, goodness will prevail over evil throughout the world.
“Pysanky is typically started 40 days before Lent, with the hope to accomplish one egg a day,” said Williams. “(Ukrainians) give them to (family and friends) to bless events like marriages … courting girls will give them to their beau, sometimes they will put them inside a coffin.”
But the process of making a pysanky egg is no simple task. Williams first has her class practice on chicken eggs to get a feel for the art, but larger goose eggs are used for the real thing.
“You first have to wash your eggs in a vinegar solution,”said Williams. “Then you should divide the egg in halves with a pencil.”
Then, the hard part: creating a design. Ukranians use different designs to mean different things. The placement of the symbols and designs ultimately determine the egg’s significance.
Williams suggests drawing the design on your egg in pencil before beginning the dye process.
The next step is choosing your colors. Although colors are secondary to symbols in meaning, they also play an important part in the egg’s symbolism. Each color used in the design represents a specific wish. For example, gold denotes spirituality and wisdom. Red signifies happiness, hope and passion. Blue represents good health – truth, fidelity and sky.
An egg with four or more colors wishes peace, love and family happiness to its recipient.
Once you have created a design and chosen your colors, the real fun begins.
Using a stylus filled with heated beeswax, Williams’ class begins tracing over the part of their designs they want to remain white. It is a process that is more difficult than it sounds. Irregular flow of beeswax from the stylus can wreak havoc on your carefully drawn design.
“You just have to go with your mistakes,” said Williams. “It’s all about figuring out how to balance them out.”
After the wax is applied, the dyeing begins.
“(When it comes to dyeing eggs) you have to think backwards,” said Williams.
The sequence of the dye colors is important to keep each color vibrant and true.
“Different dye combinations will produce slightly different variations of the dye, so it’s important to start with your lighter colors first,” said Williams.
The process continues until the whole design is covered in wax.
The egg can then be put into a 250-degree preheated oven until the wax is soft enough to be wiped off. The flame of a candle can also be used to melt away pea-sized sections of the waxed egg.
Once the egg is completely decorated, it is sprayed with polyurethane and drained. This process can be a bit tricky with chicken eggs: one false move can lead to the destruction of a time-consuming piece of art. Goose eggs are usually more sturdy and able to withstand draining easily.
For more information on pysanky eggs or to take a class, contact the Sierra Nevada Children’s Museum at (530) 587-KIDS.
To obtain the necessary materials for pysanky visit the Ukrainian Gift Shop Web site at http://www.ukraniangiftshop.com.
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