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