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Pysanky: not just another Easter egg.

Have you ever wished you could save those colorfully dyed Easter eggs we labor over every year? We spend days drawing with wax crayons, affixing transfers, and soaking eggs in dyes until just the exact shade has been achieved. Then, the shells are cracked and thrown away, the boiled eggs are eaten, and the Easter eggs are gone for another year.

Well, there is a way to preserve those beautiful designs. It's called pysanky.

Pysanky, or pisanki, is a charming and colorful form of egg decorating, dating back to very early Polish and Ukrainian history. The word "pysanky" means "to write." The artform involves using hot wax in specific designs and color combinations on the eggs.

Each section of the Ukraine has its own specific designs and favorite color combinations. The Carpathian Mountain people use geometric patterns, while the people living in the lowland region prefer floral and animal designs.

Each design on an egg has a specific meaning, handed down through the ages from generation to generation. A triangle represents air, fire or water, or the Trinity. An eight-pointed star signifies the ancient sun-god. The sun is used to bring good fortune, while a chicken or rooster promises fulfillment of wishes.

A deer symbolizes wealth and prosperity, a fish symbolizes the ancient symbol of Christ, and a fir tree denotes eternal youth and health. Flowers illustrate love and charity, and an endless line depicts eternity.

Colors also have specific meanings. Yellow is used for spirituality, pink for success, white for purity and brown for happiness. Blue is for health, black for remembrance, orange for attraction, violet for high power. Green indicates money, and red represents love, victory, royalty, blood or the resurrection.

The materials needed for pysanky are common and inexpensive. First you need a tool for drawing the designs on the eggs. Some people use a stylus, called a kistka, others use a C-5 Speedball pen nib and holder. A sharpened wooden matchstick or a simple straight pin stuck into the eraser end of a pencil can also be used.

Eggs can be raw or hard-boiled. They will not smell unless the shell is cracked, so will last a lifetime. Soap should never be used to clean an egg as it may remove natural oils which help the dyes adhere evenly. Boiling also removes these oils, causing faded spots on the finished egg, but beginners often prefer hard-boiled eggs. The egg can also be blown out, leaving just the thin shell to decorate.

Other materials needed include beeswax, a candle and candle holder, white eggs, vinegar, tissues, jars to hold the dyes, spoons to remove the eggs from the dyes, and of course, the dyes themselves.

Food coloring in liquid or tablet forms is most often used; however, analine (chemical) dyes or fabric dyes may be used. Remember, though, if chemical or fabric dyes are used, the eggs cannot be eaten.

Decorating pysanky eggs requires about 3-6 hours for each egg.

1. Hard boil or wash white eggs. Prepare the dyes following the package directions. Be sure to add the specific amount of vinegar to each container before adding the coloring, as this helps to set the color.

2. You may want to draw your design lightly on the egg with a pencil before applying the wax lines. Never erase the pencil lines, as scratches will occur and the dyes will not cover scratches. The egg may also be sectioned off with rubber bands, so the design can be repeated in each section.

3. Light the candle. Insert the tip of your writing instrument into the flame until it becomes hot. Then dip it into the beeswax, which will melt when touched by the hot tip. Immediately draw the part of the design that is to remain white. Continue to heat the tip and dip it into the beeswax as needed to complete the desired design.

4. When the design is completed, immerse the egg in the lightest color. The correct sequence of colors is yellow, orange, red, blue, green, violet and black, always working from lightest to darkest. When the desired shade is obtained, remove the egg and pat it dry with tissue--do not rob.

5. Apply beeswax to all areas which will remain yellow. Continue to dip the egg in each dye bath, applying wax to whatever areas are to remain a specific color.

6. Finally, immerse the egg in the darkest bath. All areas not covered with wax will be this background color. Remove the egg and dry it.

7. The final step in pysanky is to remove the wax from the decorated egg. There are several ways to do this:

a. Place each egg on a tissue in an oven set at 250 degrees. Wipe it clean as the wax melts.

b. Dip the egg in hot (not boiling) water for a few seconds and wipe clean.

c. Scrape off the wax with another piece of wax.

8. For greater brilliance and longer preservation, apply shellac or acrylic spray in as many coats as desired. Additional shine can be obtained by rubbing a drop of salad oil over the entire egg or by placing a small amount of varnish in the palm of your hand and rolling the egg around until completely covered. Allow to dry thoroughly.

Although the process of decorating pysanky eggs is a long and tedious one, it preserves the tradition of a proud group of people. Many traditions fall by the wayside from lack of interest, but the pysanky eggs remain a lasting tribute to the people who so painstakingly continue their decorating year after year. They bring sunshine into the lives of all who receive one of these beautiful eggs made with love.

Ellen A. Bosha Gibbons is an art teacher from Ashley, Pennsylvania.
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Title Annotation:Polish art form for decorating and preserving eggs
Author:Gibbons, Ellen A. Bosha
Publication:School Arts
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Previous Article:American folk art in the classroom.
Next Article:Native American cultural enrichment through the arts.

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