I made this pair of folk-arty pysanky for my mom about 17 years ago. And she still has them! They dried, they didn’t rot, amazing. I was super-duper into folky-hippie-arty suns and moons at the time as you can see! I couldn’t believe it when I saw them at her house a couple of months ago. But I should back up and tell you how I learned this Ukrainian art form in the first place …
When I was almost too old to for summer camp I went to a day camp that blew my mind. We got to be pioneers for 5 whole days at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village! I did it for 2 or 3 years I think, and then I worked as a volunteer ’cause I was too old to be a camper but I really wanted to be a pioneer at least once per summer still. And then I worked as a leader of the program, because I could not get enough of being a pioneer! I still love a good historic site, but the UCHV has never been topped for me. If you’re ever in the Edmonton area, you must go, it’s an unforgettable experience. You will be forever moved by the tenacity of the settlers of Western Canada and the richness of the culture that the Ukrainians carried with them over the brutal miles of untamed Canada.
Honestly, those were some of the best days of my life. Both campers and program leaders (along with the interperters there) dressed in historically accurate clothing. For the ladies that meant brown cotton stockings held up with penny garters, cotton bloomers and slips and drop-waisted cotton print dresses. And to top it off, hustkas, the colourful, flowered woollen headscarves.
We became members of the families in the farm and town sites, we ground grain, “shopped” at the old store, fed animals, made meals from scratch, fetched water, rode in wagons and old cars, smithed tiny horseshoes, weighed grain at the elevator, dipped candles, packed ice in the ice chest, pumped gas at the hand pump, sent out Morse code messages at the train station, went to school and church (there are 3 varieties on the historic site there!) Can you think of a better way to spend a summer? I cannot. It was the best summer job ever.
And each week we made Pysanky, Ukrainian Easter eggs. Witness Susan in heaven. Beeswax melting, pots of dye waiting, delicate eggs ready for art. We worked from traditional Ukrainian patterns, though none of mine have survived. I did get my own kystka (if you scroll down in the link you’ll see beautiful eggs and then some lovely hands working with a kystka), the tool for drawing with heated beeswax on the eggs.
Each pysanka is made with a process exactly like batik. A layer of beeswax is drawn on the egg to seal in the white of the original surface, then the egg is dyed the lightest colour you want (traditionally yellow). Next a layer of wax designs over the yellow seal it in, then it’s dyed orange, draw, dye red, draw and so on through to black (or whatever your darkest colour will be). Then all the wax is heated and wiped away and a colourful egg appears, its magic, alchemy really! For these eggs I evidently drew the entire piece on the white egg and then layered the dye colours.
And lastly, you really should check out the Giant Pysanka in Vegreville, Alberta. Happy weekend!