The art of Ukrainian egg decorating

Work­shop at the Ukie Club teaches com­munity mem­bers the Ukrain­i­an tra­di­tion of pysanky.

AJA BEECH / STAR PHOTO

By Aja Beech

East­er is quickly ap­proach­ing and for some mem­bers of the Ukrain­i­an com­munity, one tra­di­tion is at the fore­front: pysanky.

Last week­end, sis­ters Olga Galaj Gonza­lez, Maria Wikar­czak, Stephanie Chris­ti­an, and Lesia Rich­man taught a class on pysanky, the Ukrain­i­an art of egg dec­or­at­ing, at the Ukrain­i­an Amer­ic­an Cit­izen’s As­so­ci­ation.

The sis­ters grew up on Ran­dolph Street, near Gir­ard Av­en­ue, and the Ukrain­i­an Amer­ic­an Cit­izen’s Club, com­monly re­ferred to as the Ukie Club, has been a big part of their lives.

While the sis­ters have all moved, ex­cept for Maria, who still lives in their former fam­ily home, have fam­il­ies of their own, but they con­tin­ue to come back to the neigh­bor­hood of their youth to par­ti­cip­ate in and host activ­it­ies at the Ukie Club.

Galaj Gonza­lez cre­ated a pysanka that rep­res­en­ted Delaware in 2001 at the Amer­ic­an Egg Board’s present­a­tion to former Pres­id­ent George W. Bush at the White House.

She and her three sis­ters were all taught pysanky by their moth­er and she has cre­ated her art since she was 14 years old. They all feel it is im­port­ant to share this cul­tur­al art form with their chil­dren, and their chil­dren’s chil­dren, passing it down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion.

“It’s im­port­ant,” Galaj Gonza­lez said, “be­cause we want to teach it to our chil­dren, let them have a sense of her­it­age, sense of cul­ture and a con­tinu­ation of their par­ents’ tra­di­tions.”

She ex­plained that the en­tirety of the egg dec­or­a­tion is sym­bol­ic and that the art form goes back to pre-Chris­ti­an times. Ori­gin­ally, the eggs and their dec­or­a­tions were more ‘pa­gan’ and based in nature, and then those sym­bols of nature came to be used as Chris­ti­an re­li­gious sym­bols, ac­cord­ing to Galaj Gonza­lez.

“Ukrain­i­an eggs have three mo­tifs: plant, an­im­al and geo­met­ric, and they all have mean­ing. All of the col­ors are sym­bol­ic,” she said. “So, if you wanted to wish someone a happy life, you would make them an egg that was red. Red stands for ro­mance and a long mar­riage, yel­low for good health, or­ange for a won­der­ful har­vest. They all have mean­ings. It is a won­der­ful gift to give to someone. It is forever, un­less you break it.”

Forever mean­ing it will last years bey­ond that of a hard-boiled, dyed egg.

Pysanky dec­or­at­ing uses a tech­nique called “wax-res­ist.” The artist draws on an egg with warm wax and places the egg in a dye. The pro­cess re­peats a few times, with new sym­bols be­ing drawn and dyes be­ing ad­ded, un­til the dy­ing pro­cess is fin­ished and the egg is dried. The wax is then re­moved, gen­er­ally by pla­cing the com­pletely dyed egg close to a candle flame and wip­ing the wax off with a smooth, not tex­tured, pa­per tow­el.

“It’s been ac­cep­ted very warmly by the Amer­ic­ans,” Galaj Gonza­lez said of the East­ern European tra­di­tion of egg dec­or­at­ing. “They en­joy the concept of it, they en­joy mak­ing it, and paint­ing on them.”

The pysanky work­shop she and her sis­ters led was the first of its kind at the Ukie Club in years, ac­cord­ing to Ukie Club Board of Dir­ect­or’s mem­ber Nat­alia Si­let­sky Mykijew­ycz.

She re­mem­bers sim­il­ar egg dec­or­at­ing work­shop when she was a young girl and would come to events at the Ukie Club. Si­let­sky Mykijew­ycz said the board en­joys the Ukie Club’s re­la­tion­ship with the com­munity and wants to in­tro­duce more Ukrain­i­an cul­tur­al pro­gram­ming and events for club mem­bers and the gen­er­al pub­lic.

Ap­prox­im­ately 20 wo­men, and men, of all ages cre­ated eggs at the Ukie Club for the Pysanky Work­shop.

Christina Kelly found out about the event on­line.

She went to the Ukrain­i­an Cath­ol­ic Cathed­ral of the Im­macu­late Con­cep­tion School as a child and grew up on Ran­dolph Street as well.

She is half Ukrain­i­an, and while she has re­cently moved to South Phil­adelphia, her moth­er and grand­moth­er still live in the neigh­bor­hood.

“When I was a little girl,” Kelly said of mak­ing pysanky, “I did this one time in the cafet­er­ia with my grand­mom, and I was dy­ing to do it ever since, so when I saw it, I jumped on the chance.”

Kelly said that ini­tially draw­ing with the wax on the eggs was the most dif­fi­cult part, but after her first egg, she felt more con­fid­ent about con­tinu­ing the pro­cess. She said of the class, “This is cool to learn how to do this.”

For more de­tails about events at the Ukrain­i­an Amer­ic­an Cit­izen’s As­so­ci­ation, vis­it ukieclub.com, email UACA@ukieclub.com or call (215) 627–8790.