Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ethnic Decorative Easter Eggs - Interview

Last year, I posted about a traditional method of dyeing Easter eggs call pysanky. This year, I found an artist who uses another method. It is a style that I recognized, and is stunning in its simplicity and natural color. We have some eggs like these in our family's collection (my mom remembers doing them as a child) so I wanted to get more information from someone who currently practices this tradition. Below, is Mary Gleixner's story- she also sells her work in her online shop.

These chicken eggs are decorated using the Polish pin drop method of waxing and dyeing eggs. They have been blown out, cleaned, waxed, and dyed dark red. I then varnish the eggs with the wax giving the eggs a raised effect. This completed set of three sits with a dozen of empty shell of different colors of eggs including brown, speckled, and aracana (a light green). It is a tradition that was handed down through the generations from my Great Aunt to my mother and to her children. For years, we thought that the tradition was Russian but my sister found a book called, Easter Eggs...Polish Style by Lawrence G. Kozlowski (a simple 40 page spiral bound book). It showed the different designs from different sectors of Poland. I think that my family must have come from Podlasie because those are the designs that match my mom's eggs. It also describes other traditions known as Kraszanki, Batykowane, Skrobanki, Wyklejanki, Nalepianki, Malowanki, as well as eggs made from paper and straw. My Great Aunt on my mom's side taught her when she was pretty young, and they had to stand over a hot coal stove to work on the eggs. Aunt Betty didn't have fond memories of making the eggs because of that stove. On the other hand, my mom loved making the eggs. I know that her favorite part was giving them away. She always looked so proud! I have great memories of my mom creating the egg designs. I am so very thankful that I learned when I did. My mom passed away eleven years ago, and there is not a single egg that leaves my hands without a thought of her.

This method is called "pin drop" because the designs are all made with the head of a pin dipped in wax. My mom would let all six of us kids dye usually two dozen hard boiled eggs for Easter. Once they were dry, she would heat up her bee's wax in an old paint can lid and begin her waxing. I can still hear her pin hitting the lid, where she would let it sit for a few seconds before she would touch the egg and make a short stroke, The stroke made a tear drop effect on the egg. The markings represent the tears that Mary cried when Jesus died on the cross. Each egg was either divided into three or had markings of three to represent the Trinity. She would work quietly on each egg. One by one, she would start to fill the egg cartons. They were just beautifiul. She would let us watch only because the wax was extremely hot. Then she would send us to bed, and you could hear her working until late into the evening. In the morning, we would come down to see her beautiful work. We were each allowed to pick an egg to give to our teachers for Easter. Others were given as gifts, and the last of them were reserved for egg fights on Easter- when you smash each other's egg by banging them together to see who had the toughest egg.
It wasn't until after I became a mother myself that I realized how important this tradition was to me. I blew out a dozen eggs - the hard way- and asked my mom to make some for me to keep for my children. She told everyone in the house to sit and watch, and she would explain exactly what she was taught. Even our brothers had to try to make the eggs. Our eggs looked terrible, but I was determined. I practiced for many years before I thought they were good enough. I love making the eggs and have truly enjoyed passing the tradition onto my children.

Some of the eggs pictured here are some of my older eggs that I have kept for my kids. The original tradition with our family was to hard boil, decorate, and eat the eggs. I now use the aniline dyes to get the great colors. Some of the eggs I leave the wax on for a fun effect, and others I remove the wax to reveal the colors. The eggs that my mom made were a simpler version because they were to be eaten and not saved.
All photos in this post courtesy of Mary Gleixner of MarysEggs
We were always told that they were peasant eggs. The farmers would bury an egg at the end of a row in their field to ensure a good crop. They were also placed at the head of gravestones at Easter. I do it today in place of eggs last much longer than flowers.


The tools I use are remarkably simple. When my grandma passed away, we were asked by my uncle to come to the house and take what we wanted.  He knew what I was looking for...all I wanted was those tools.  He was in the basement, turned around and said, "Oh Mary, this is what you want!!"  It was the only thing I wanted- a little bag with two sticks with pins in the end, some candles, and a little tray.  It sounds silly that two little sticks with pins should be such a prize, but they will be held dear to my heart forever.

For more of Mary's designs and stories about how she creates these beautiful eggs, visit her blog.

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