Saturday 3 May 2014

Ukrainian Pysanka

The original Easter egg.

Pysanky artists decorates Easter eggs using methods and symbols that have been part of Ukrainian culture for centuries. Pysanky (PIH-sahn-kih) are eggs decorated with a process that employs wax and dyes, using different colors and symbols that have special meanings in Ukrainian tradition. A single egg is a pysanka.
Pysanka art by Sophie Pidwerbeski,
my baba

My grandmother, Sophie, and her sisters, mother, and grandmothers, who were all born in the Ukraine, knew the art of this treasured Ukrainian tradition.
The tradition of pysanky is believed to pre-date Christian times, even going as far back as Trypillian culture--and ancient Eastern European civilization. As Christianity spread into Ukraine, the pagan symbols used to decorate the eggs were given Christian associations, and pysanky became a form of folk art connected to Easter.
The art form, somehow, and often in secret, survived despite the many hardships of the artists over the years: war, Communist rule, and even during the period when religious practices were outlawed.
Although I do not know the art myself (it is on my bucket list of things to learn), I do remember my mother and grandmother drawing on the Easter eggs, first with pencil then with wax, and then dipping them into different colors.
The pysanky are created using a wax-resistant dyeing technique: the eggs are dyed in progressive stages and wax is applied to resist the dye from settling in certain parts.
Drawing the wax design on the eggs is called "writing"--the term comes from the word "pysaty", which means "to write". The writing is applied with a stylus called a kistka.                 
Eggs made by my aunties and cousin that still live in the Ukraine
and somehow got them to Canada in original condition.
The designs are filled with symbolism---all the shapes and simple picture have a particular meaning, for examples: triangles represents the Holy Trinity; a rooster symbolizes fertility; yellow is associated with youth; black with mortality; red with love and passion for Christ.

Instructions on how to do the pysanka art:

Another good resource page on the art

My aunties and cousin in the Ukraine.
Pysanky art is a wonderful art form that I fear is fading away with the older generations. 

That gives me an idea. After I learn the art, I could give art classes where I teach visual arts. Anyone want to take an Easter egg course?

copyright, Diane Mae Robinson, 2014

Related post, The Ukrainian Writer:


  1. I think I have seen this before. Did you do a similar post last Easter- as in 2013? The eggs look familiar and I remember something about your Sofia making them. Am I deja vu-ing? I like the post. I love the eggs. And I love the family history. What do you mean by "fear is fading away" these eggs? Do you make these? As an artist this could be right up your . . . brush.

    1. I did a previous post about my Ukrainian heritage, but not about the eggs. Your memory is still fine and good. The art of pysanka: Fear is not fading away, I fear the art is fading away. Haha, I will fix it. I want to learn this art. It's incredible that I have these eggs made by my ancestors.

    2. The eggs remind me of the Faberge eggs. They might be worth a bundle. Check out antique road show if it ever comes to Alberta. You might be surprised. Though I would never give them up -- well, maybe for a couple million I would have to think hard (hard boiled) about it.

    3. The Antique Road Show has been in Alberta before. But you know, I'd have a hard time to sell these eggs even for a bundle. I'm sentimental.

  2. With the advent of the Christian faith pysanka refers to the rites of the new religion, and enriched with new characters. I like to travel and learn new cultures. If you're going to visit Ukraine, try to book some tour.