In response to my post about the spring and how I choose to experience the season of rebirth, one of our company artists, Laura Metzinger, sent in this post:
From Laura: I had long been interested in learning how to do the traditional Ukrainian (pysanky) wax-resist method of egg decorating and my library offered a workshop in 1990. I left with enough of the basics to continue to explore it on my own, and discovered that supplies could be found in NYC at Surma, a little Ukrainian shop, est. 1918, on East 7th St. They have a wide selection of books and tools and are always more than happy to offer suggestions and advice. SURMA – The Ukrainian Shop
The samples of my work here include some traditional and original designs, and all were created between 1990 and 2000. While pysanky eggs are associated with Easter, the practice of decorating eggs pre-dates Christianity, and hearkens back to the celebration of seasonal changes.
The tool for applying wax to the eggs is called a kistka. Although there are sleek, electric versions available, I like to use the more primitive, copper wire wrapped tool. It’s used by heating the copper cone at the end of the tool in a candle flame, and then pushing the point into a cake of beeswax. The heat draws up the wax into the cone, and then is used to draw designs on the egg. I use a darkened beeswax, as it’s easier to see when applied to the white egg and lighter colors. It’s especially nice to be doing this in a group, as the candles burning and the pleasant smell of beeswax create a very special atmosphere.
The process calls for working the design colors going from light to dark. Anything that you want to be white must be drawn with wax first. The wax prevents those sections from taking on any subsequent colors. Working from light to dark, wax is applied and the egg is dipped into progressively darker shades. After the design is completed, the egg is held closely alongside the candle flame. This is the best part; as the wax melts and is wiped off, the brilliant colors come into view.
I love the symbolic meanings given to the imagery, which vary according to the source. And the use of eggs as a symbol of rebirth is timeless. All the colors have specific meanings, as do the designs. Most obvious is the use of plant and animal images. Earlier meanings were associated with the seasons, farming and harvest. Later on, many of the images were associated with Christianity. I have incorporated designs from other cultures, such as Native American symbols, which are very close to the Eastern European designs. I’ve also done a number of Trypillion designs on brown eggs. The predominantly black & red swirling designs come from artifacts discovered in the Ukraine, and are believed to symbolize the female, from whom new life comes. There are a number of ways of approaching the design elements. There are repeating border designs, end-cap designs and pictures. Traditionally, the repeating border designs are stylized plant elements. I like to incorporate Native American wave symbols in my borders and end-cap designs.
Thank you, Laura. With my perspective I can’t help but make a connection between this tradition of decorating eggs to the discovery of etched ostrich eggs from 60,000 years ago — some of the oldest objects yet to show the use of symbolism by early humans. From the online article in Science News: “The unusually large sample of 270 engraved eggshell fragments, mostly excavated over the past several years at Diepkloof Rock Shelter in South Africa, displays two standard design patterns…. Each pattern enjoyed its own heyday between approximately 65,000 and 55,000 years ago…. Researchers already knew that the Howiesons Poort culture, which engraved the eggshells, engaged in other symbolic practices, such as engraving designs into pieces of pigment, that were considered to have been crucial advances in human behavioral evolution. But the Diepkloof finds represent the first archaeological sample large enough to demonstrate that Stone Age people created design traditions, at least in their engravings.