March 22nd, 2016

Pysanky Eggs

PysankyEggsIf you live in the Chesapeake City area of Cecil County, you may already be familiar with the fascinating Ukrainian folk art of pysanky eggs. The Chesapeake City Branch Library will host a program about this amazing folk art on March 22 at 6:30pm with the artists that created the eggs in the display case sharing the rich history of the art and how they are made.

A pysanka egg is…in simple terms…an egg decorated using a wax resist (aka batik) method. The term comes from the Ukrainian verb “pysaty”, which means “to write”. “Pysanka” is the singular form and “pysanky” is the plural. The pysanka egg is so much more than that though. Ukrainians have been decorating eggs and creating these beautiful and intricate works of art for many generations.

In many cultures, ancient people developed myths about the egg…seeing it as an example of creation and the source of life. The intricately colored eggs were used for various social and religious occasions and at times were seen to be a talisman, a protector against evil, as well as a bringer of good and health. Over time, the pysanka tradition was incorporated within the Christian church and they became a form of Ukrainian Easter eggs.

In the past, there was at times a long and involved ritual regarding the decorating of the pysanky eggs. The eggs were made at night after the children were asleep and only the women in the family would work together. Special songs could be sung and the eggs were dyed with special family formulas. The process could take several evenings to finish the beautiful, intricate eggs and within a larger family, 60 eggs could be completed.

There are many different traditional symbols that are used in decorating the eggs. Geometric motifs are popular, as well as some animal and plant elements. You will find a lot of stylized symbols of the sun, which can be seen as a broken cross, triangle and eight-pointed rosette or a star. You can also find flowers, leaves, the tree of life, stags, horses and birds. The Christian influence brought the cross, the church and fish symbols. As pysanka decoration has been passed on through the years, you start to see much more modern decorations and symbols being used.

A specialized instrument called the kistka or ryl’tse is used during the wax resist method to write the design onto the egg with hot beeswax. Wherever the wax is applied, the dye will not penetrate. In the past, artisans prepared their own dyes using natural products such as bark, twigs and leaves of various trees. Today, chemical dyes are mainly used. The dye colors also held meanings at times, such as yellow standing for wealth and fertility and green being the symbol of spring and plant life. Of course, this is a simplified version of the process and there is so much more information about how to create these artful eggs.

I mentioned Chesapeake City earlier, because the Ukrainian people began arriving in Chesapeake City from the Ukraine in 1910. The first bishop in the US for the Ukrainian Byzantine Rite purchased 700 acres of land near Chesapeake City to help the Ukrainian people to settle as farmers and build a Ukrainian community. Traditions such as the pysanka egg were brought with them and every year we have many beautiful eggs on display in the case at the Chesapeake City library.

What is your favorite way to decorate eggs?


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March 14th, 2016

Women’s History Month

dorothyparkerIn celebration of Women’s History Month, the Perryville Branch Library is hosting “An Evening with Dorothy Parker” on Tuesday, March 15 at 7pm. I wasn’t as familiar with Dorothy Parker as with other famous women who are often highlighted in March, so I did a little research.

“Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses” was a quote made popular by Dorothy Rothschild Parker, a humorist known for her biting prose and written satires. Parker was born in West End, New Jersey on August 22, 1893 to Scottish-Jewish parents. Her mother died shortly after giving birth so Dorothy was raised by her father and step-mother. She detested her step-mother for sending her to a convent school in New York. It was there that Dorothy developed an interest in writing poetry. Her time at the convent was short-lived due to her rebellious nature so she continued her education at a finishing school in New Jersey. Her writing career started when she was hired to work at Vogue as an editor. Two years later she was hired by Vanity Fair, but Parker’s acerbic wit led to her getting fired because she wrote a scorching review about the wife of one of the magazine’s financial backers. She went on to write a book review column “Constant Reader” for the New Yorker. She left the New Yorker when her first collection Enough Rope became a best seller.

Parker continued to write poems and short stories. During the 1920’s, Dorothy was a member of the Algonquin Round Table which also included other writers such as Robert Benchley and George S. Kaufman. Parker was married to Edwin Pond Parker II, a Wall Street broker. Her social life led her to speakeasies and parties where she mingled with Ernest Hemingway and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. Parker began drinking heavily, had a string of affairs, and she attempted suicide three times. Her marriage dissolved. Later, Dorothy married Alan Campbell, an actor. Their marriage was plagued with unhappiness and bickering. The couple divorced and eventually remarried. In the 1930’s, Parker wrote movies after moving to Hollywood, but still continued her literary career. She was involved with many political and social issues. Dorothy Parker was found dead in the Hotel Volney in New York on June 7, 1967. Upon her death, Parker willed her estate which consisted of $20,000 to Martin Luther King, Jr., her final social statement. After Martin Luther King Jr. died, her estate was transferred to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Parker’s works often concentrated on women’s issues, spoiled love relationships, and the superficial lives of wealthy society women of the 1920’s. Parker’s writing poked fun at women who depended too much on men for emotional and financial support and at the types of men who took it to their advantage. Her witty poetry became her defense mechanism against the pain and despair she suffered.

Colleen Webster, actress and living history performer will bring to life the witty and wisecracking poet. Ms. Webster is an English professor, award-winning writer and speaker for the Maryland Humanities Council. Her one-woman shows are educational, entertaining, and inspiring for her audiences. Her other performances include Emily Dickinson, Frida Kahlo, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Will you celebrate Women’s History Month with us?


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