Sketchbook: Ukrainian Easter Eggs

In this edition of “Sketchbook,” we visit the Ukrainian Museum-Archives (UMA) in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood, to check out an exhibit of intricate Easter eggs.

Read the Script:

- [Andy Fedynsky, Director, Ukrainian Museum Archives]: The eggs are folk art. They're not just centuries old, millennia old. They go back to pagan times.

- [Marta Mudri, Research Scholar]: Pagans in the area that would eventually become Ukraine, decorated eggs as part of spring rituals with the idea that they symbolized rebirth and renewal. The completed egg is called a pysanka and that comes from the verb pysate which means to write.

- [Linda Lishchuk Hupert, Ukrainian Artist]: Everybody comes up to me at shows and say, "Oh, you painted all of those eggs." And I said, "No, I don't paint." I said I write. And actually writing a design with beeswax so I have a tool to write with. This is a tool called a kistka.

- [Marta Mudri, Research Scholar]: It's basically a metal funnel, attached to a wooden or a plastic handle, and you scrape wax into the wide end of the funnel, you heat it by a candle, and as the wax melts, it comes out of the narrow end of the funnel and that's what you draw onto the egg. You're creating the design in reverse, so you start with a clean white egg and you cover the parts of the egg that you want to stay white. The wax seals off that part of the egg and the dye can't get in, and so then, you use the lightest color dye that you plan on using, usually yellow.

- [Linda Lishchuk Hupert, Ukrainian Artist]: What I want to do next, is in the center of the star, I'm gonna do teardrops. I do designs that can take me anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, to 8 hours, to 14 hours on a simple chicken egg. Now I'm gonna do a few feather lines. It then goes into the red, red dye's right over the orange. And now we're gonna cover the entire star with wax. It can be a little messy here. And then it's ready to go into the final color, which is black. And voila, this is what it looks like when it's done. Okay, it looks like really nothing. You hold the egg close to the flame, there's the white lines, the yellow teardrops, the orange feather lines and the red star.

- [Marta Mudri, Research Scholar]: There are such a wide variety of different symbols that are used and styles and techniques and all of that, but it's such a uniquely Ukrainian thing. This egg has a periwinkle pattern to it. Periwinkle has a special place in Ukrainian folklore because the green vine of the periwinkle stays green for such a long time even after the first snow, you can see how green the periwinkle vine is and for that reason it has developed a significance of perseverance and persistence which is kind of a lovely thought. The Ukrainian Easter egg was always included in the Ukrainian Easter basket so it's part of our Easter celebration.

- [Andy Fedynsky, Director, Ukrainian Museum Archives]: It's something that I grew up with, you know, we had them around the house, we have them at home, it's part of tradition, it's part of who we are, as a people.

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