Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Egg Art - Pysanky

As you can probably see by my sirname, I come from Eastern European roots. In my particular case, those genes run fairly deep on both sides. One side of my family is Polish, and the other is Russian (with a smattering of Irish thrown in for good measure). In our family, there are many traditions and foods that overlap especially when it comes to the holidays. One of these is the decorating of Easter eggs in a folk art manner with a permanent dye and wax-resistant method called psyanky. Natural dyes for solid-colored eggs can be made from beets or onion skins.

This process, steeped in tradition, is very labor-intensive and involves many steps but the result is immensely colorful and rewarding. You have to think backwards starting with the lightest color first (typically the natural color of the eggshell or yellow), and work methodically to the darkest. It’s a ritualistic and meditative artform; meant to be carried out slowly during the entire period of Lent. A few years ago, I taught myself the process, and have been able to whip out several of them in one sitting right before we leave for Easter services.
A large basket holding several different styles and designs of psyanky.
(Photographed in Bucharest, Romania 2007)

My mother's collection consists of eggs that range in size from a robin's egg that I found once as a young girl to enormous ostrich eggs. Every year, her aunt used to decorate eggs professionally using this method. We would all look forward to visiting her and getting to choose one out of her latest creations. Discerning artists will search for eggs without many flaws, typically preferring slightly larger and thicker duck eggs for their smooth surface. I typically just work with regular chicken eggs from the grocery store. Serious egg artists also tell a story with each of their designs. Each color and design holds specific symbolism. The color red symbolizes blood, wheat symbolizes new life, and simple geometric forms that once represented fire, air, and water in more pagan times, now represents the Trinity. Many of the pre-Christian secular symbols have now made a transition in meaning. Back in the "old country", there are even regional styles that can be differentiated from one another through the use of color, symbols, and overall design. They can appear tribal or even Native American in style. At the end of the process, we fill large baskets with the finished eggs and "ethnic" foods like kielbasa.

Part of our tradition also involves saying what is known as a Paschal Greeting to our friends in as many languages as are represented in the room. Over the years, we have become somewhat "fluent" in Greek, Russian, Arabic, and Romanian.

Χριστός Ανέστη!    -     Христос Воскресе!     -     !المسيح قام! حقا قام    -    Hristos a înviat!

A sampling of my own designs over the years. Happy Easter, everyone!


  1. Your designs are just gorgeous! I am so jealous. Thanks for telling some of the symbolism. How interesting!


  2. Thank you, Jana. There is such a rich history embedded in this type of folk art. I'm glad you enjoyed it.