Easter in Technicolor

THE UKRAINIAN CRAFT OF ‘PYSANKY'

On late winter evenings in Ukraine, women huddle in front of candle flames to recreate ancient designs on the most delicate of all canvases, a raw fertilized chicken egg. They are working to create pysanky (pee-SAHN-kee), finely decorated eggs for the celebration of Orthodox Easter, Pascha. These beautiful colored eggs have been crafted in Eastern Europe for centuries, but they reached their artistic culmination in Ukraine and are popularly referred to as Ukrainian Easter eggs.

A pysanka is created through a meticulous, time-consuming wax-resist process that is so difficult Romanians refer to pysanky as “tormented eggs.” Applying layer upon layer of melted beeswax poured through a tiny copper funnel heated by a candle flame, the artisan draws, or “writes,” traditional patterns on the shell. The egg is then dyed, first with the lightest color, then with darker and darker colors. The color that is covered by wax will remain that way in the egg’s final design. There may be as many as five or six colors, with each new color involving a separate application of wax. The last color to be used will serve as the “background” for the finished egg. When the process is complete, the wax is removed by very lightly baking the egg and wiping it clean. Only then is the final design revealed.

In the old days, the egg yolk and white were simply allowed to dry in the shell, but today special tools are used to blow them out...

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About the Author

Carrie Frederick Frost is a graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. She has taught herself pysanky.