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What you need to know for 04/24/2017

Ukrainian tradition of Pysanka to be taught at Amsterdam library workshop

Ukrainian tradition of Pysanka to be taught at Amsterdam library workshop

Local Ukrainian-Americans are inviting guests to learn Pysanka, the ancient art of decorating eggs,
Ukrainian tradition of Pysanka to be taught at Amsterdam library workshop
Anastasia Kostyk of Amsterdam, right, decorates an egg with beeswax Wednesday at the Amsterdam Public Library during a demonstration for an upcoming workshop with Olya Szyjka.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Anastasia Kostyk warmed the end of a tiny tool filled with beeswax before gently drawing lines around an egg.

The 24-year-old Ukrainian-American was demonstrating the centuries-old artform handed down by generations of Ukrainians who cherished their decorated eggs that symbolized life, springtime and, in later days, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Local Ukrainian-Americans are inviting guests to learn Pysanka, the ancient art of decorating eggs, during a workshop planned for March 2.

The Amsterdam Free Library will host the event, at which women will share techniques that have brought worldwide recognition to Ukrainians’ ability to add colorful flare and intricate detail to chicken, goose, duck, ostrich and other eggs.

Organized by the city’s Ukrainian-American Club, the clinic will give Olya Szyjka a chance to share what she learned from her elders — the same way she taught Kostyk the art. Szyjka said Wednesday she started learning how to decorate Easter eggs when she was 4 and never stopped.

Bringing the art to others, she said, helps keep it alive.

“When you share it, people can learn about it, appreciate it, and it doesn’t get lost,” Szyjka said.

Decorated eggs date back thousands of years, and the earliest forms often depicted animal figures, said Myron Swidersky, one of the event’s organizers. Some recounted the lives of people and their beliefs, and the tradition carried on into the days after Ukrainians accepted Christianity.

Often, the agrarian people would spend hours during the winter decorating their eggs, since there was little to do on the snow-covered farm, Swidersky said.

A standard egg can be colored and completed in as little as an hour, Szyjka said. More intricate designs can take eight hours, and larger forms, such as those on ostrich eggs, can take more than a week.

The process involves adding lines and design with beeswax, then dipping the egg into a light-colored dye. In the old days, dyes were made from a variety of things, like onion skins, minerals found in the ground and beet juice. Today, synthetic dyes are used.

The process continues with each consecutive design being dipped into a darker dye. Finishing with a varnish is among the final steps. A pinhole is made in the egg to remove its contents, but that’s not always necessary.

Swidersky, whose wife Domna is considered an expert at Pysanka, said some Ukrainians leave the eggs intact and simply let the contents dry out inside. He said it’s a riskier option, though — one of them blew up in a cabinet and made a mess, he said.

Making Pysanky can be a therapeutic experience, Szyjka said.

“It’s meditative but it also connects us with our culture,” she explained.

The workshop requires registration by Monday so sufficient kits to make the eggs can be secured for each participant.

The event will begin at 10:30 a.m. with two films about the art of Pysanka, followed by lunch from noon to 1 p.m. Then, demonstrations and hands-on learning will run from 1 to 4 p.m.

The cost for the program is $15. Children ages 10 and older, with parents, can also participate. To register, call the library at 842-1080.

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