Pysanky Easter Eggs: Preserving a Tradition and a Culture
Apr 02, 2017 12:05PM
By Clare Heekin Lynch
Photos courtesy of Michael Kapeluck
Michael Kapeluck creates pysanky—elaborately decorated Easter eggs—using an old Ukrainian method taught to him by his mother. Casual observers may think that the eggs are a beautiful piece of art with carefully created and complex designs, but they are so much more than that.
“They are a connection to my roots,” Kapeluck said.
Pysanky (pronounced PIH-sahn-kih) is a traditional craft in Ukraine and Poland. The word “pysanky” comes from the Ukrainian verb “pysaty” which means “to write.”
The method is similar to batik—patterns are drawn on eggs with wax, which then protects the covered areas from the dye that is applied. The egg is dipped in a series of colors, beginning with the lightest to darkest, alternating between wax applications. Whatever color is under the wax remains that color.
Once the last dark color is used, the wax is melted over a flame and wiped away to reveal the colorful design underneath. “The process uses colors and symbols that have special meanings in Ukrainian tradition–black for mortality, yellow for youth and happiness, red for divine love and the passion of Christ and so on,” Kapeluck explained.
The origin of the Easter egg goes back to pre-Christian times. “The egg represents life, and there is a sacred element involved in the designs—a type of calling out to the gods and goddesses for health, fertility, love, and wealth,” Kapeluck said.
When Christianity spread to Ukraine, the pre-Christian symbols used were given Christian associations and pysanky became a form of folk art connected to Easter. “As examples, a triangle that once spoke of the three elements—earth, fire, and air—now celebrates the Holy Trinity. The Cross, which depicted the rising sun, became the symbol of the risen Christ,” Kapeluck continued.
What is amazing about the Pysanky art form, however, is not just its longevity over the generations, but its victory over hardship and tyranny. “It survived periods of starvation in the Ukraine and years of war,” said Kapeluck. “It survived Communist rule, when religious practices were outlawed.”
When the Soviet Union broke up and Ukraine regained independence in 1991, the work of many Ukrainian pysanky artists suddenly re-emerged. “I believe immigration is what kept this tradition alive,” said Kapeluck.
Kapeluck’s mother was the daughter of immigrants and her passion for the art is what inspired her to spearhead the annual egg sale at the parish of St. Peter & St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Carnegie as a fundraiser for the church. “Over the years, my mom, along with other ladies in the parish, spent Sunday afternoons teaching egg decorating to anyone who wanted to learn how to preserve the art form and the culture,” said Kapeluck. “That’s how I learned.”
He added that for some, the process of creating the designs is meditative. “Intricate, detailed work allows the mind to focus on the spiritual,” he said. “The artists decorate from their souls.”
While artists from the church are often asked to hold mini pysanky egg decorating workshops in libraries and community centers around the region, community residents are invited to the parish on Saturday, April 1, to try it themselves. The three-hour classes are limited in size and open to all ages, and reservations will be required. “It’s important to keep this wonderful tradition going,” said Kapeluck. “We’re proud of our heritage and the skills of our artists.”
Kapeluck and his fellow artists will display and sell examples of their work on Sunday, April 9, during the Church’s 50th annual Ukrainian Easter Egg Sale. Featuring more than 1,200 handcrafted Ukrainian Easter eggs, and more than 300 specialty eggs (including goose, ostrich, wooden, glass, beaded, and Austrian, to name a few), the event will also showcase folk arts and crafts from the Ukraine.
“There will be wood carving, vintage Ukrainian porcelains, embroidered towels/scarves, jewelry, and so much more,” Kapeluck said. In addition, guests will get to enjoy basket raffles, door prizes and delicious Ukrainian foods (including kielbasa, pierogies, stuffed cabbage, halushki, homemade breads and baked goods).
“We will also host Church tours and a parish museum display throughout the day – there’s something for everyone!” said Kapeluck.
For more information, visit St. Peter & St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church on Facebook or go to their website at www.orthodoxcarnegie.org.