Pysanka Party

Honoring my Slavic side through an art form that relates strongly to the concept of ‘Magical Folk Arts’, Pysanka are charms made in Spring to bring blessings to the household and community throughout the year. Best known in their Ukrainian and Polish forms, but practiced all over the Slavic world, families traditionally made 50-60 eggs; one for each member of the household - including livestock, some for gifting to close friends and family, some for youths to exchange with sweethearts and some for added health for newborns. Each design element and color employed is a part of a visual language that dates back to the Pre-Christian era, and while largely lost over time, still holds mysteries and magic via intentional folk symbolism.

Preparatory work for this project involved revisiting some examples of my Croatian Grandmother’s needlepoint (above). Featuring designs that relate formally to this eggciting folk art form, the same kinds of patterns and meanings can be inferred between those found on textiles, household objects and ornate egg decorating. The last image in the series is of pysanka I made at a workshop in April hosted by the Gammelgarden Museum, in partnership with Marine Mills Folk School. The word pysanka comes from the verb pysaty, "to write" or "to inscribe", as the designs are not painted on, but written with beeswax.

Pisanki class with Laurelie Creuzer. Photo Credit: Marine Mills Folk School.

Pisanki class with Laurelie Creuzer. Photo Credit: Marine Mills Folk School.

From Pysanka Wikipedia article: “In pre-Christian times, Dazhboh (a sun god) was one of the major deities in the Slavic pantheon; birds were the sun god's chosen creations, for they were the only ones who could get near him. Humans could not catch the birds, but they did manage to obtain the eggs the birds laid. Thus, the eggs were magical objects, a source of life. The egg was also honored during rite-of-Spring festivals – it represented the rebirth of the earth. The long, hard winter was over; the earth burst forth and was reborn just as the egg miraculously burst forth with life. The egg therefore, was believed to have special powers…

Eggs after the first dye bath. I’m cheating here and using leftover PAAS egg dye instead of the real stuff.

Eggs after the first dye bath. I’m cheating here and using leftover PAAS egg dye instead of the real stuff.

Eggs after the second dye bath, having added more design elements with a kistka in molten beeswax.

Eggs after the second dye bath, having added more design elements with a kistka in molten beeswax.

Ukrainians who live in the Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine – believe that the fate of the world depends upon the pysanka. As long as the egg writing custom continues, the world will exist. If, for any reason, this custom is abandoned, evil - in the shape of a horrible serpent who is forever chained to a cliff - will overrun the world. Each year the serpent sends out his minions to see how many pysanky have been written. If the number is low the serpent's chains are loosened and he is free to wander the earth causing havoc and destruction. If, on the other hand, the number of pysanky has increased, the chains are tightened and good triumphs over evil for yet another year…” With this in mind, I may have just kept chaos at bey for another year, but if it didn’t help I will try harder next time around I promise!

Geometic patterns dominate with symbolic color combinations. Eternity bands, goddess figures, plant and animal glyphs as well as cosmological imagery were all attached to specific meanings and intentions.

Geometic patterns dominate with symbolic color combinations. Eternity bands, goddess figures, plant and animal glyphs as well as cosmological imagery were all attached to specific meanings and intentions.

Each egg took at least an hour and a half for me to complete, and these aren’t nearly as ornate as they get. I’m using a hand tool instead of the newfangled electric version, which I hear speeds things up, but I enjoy the slow, methodical process. There’s something weirdly satisfying about imposing geometric order on the curved surface of an eggshell, feeling something akin to tattooing. With 5 laying hens at home, there’s a limitless supply of blank canvases produced daily if I can keep up with them. The challenging part to me is sussing out reliable sources that speak to the language in depth - I’m hungry for details that don’t seem to exist on the internet or in print. Like many of my passion projects, the best resources have been conversations with real people.