If 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 ryltse 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?