Intricately decorated Easter eggs are a way Mainers show their support for Ukraine
With eye-catching colors and intricate patterns, the traditional Ukrainian style of egg decorating – called pysanky – is a fascinating art form in its own right.
But as the war in Ukraine continues, the art of pysanky takes on a new meaning this Easter season: as a way for people, including those here in Maine, to show their support for the Ukrainian people.
Ahead of Easter, at least two pysanky decorating workshops and an online demonstration have been organized by non-Ukrainian Mainers with experience in the craft, and another event, called “Pysanky for Peace”, will be held in Brunswick next week. The events raise funds for various charities working to help the people of Ukraine and raise awareness about a particular element of the country’s culture.
“I love the idea of art that has such a deep history in Ukrainian culture, I love the idea of this art being shared and doing good,” said Bristol-based watercolourist Erica Qualey , who hosted a live pysanky-making. demonstration on Facebook this week.
The exact roots of this form of egg decorating are unclear, according to a recent TIME story on the history of the tradition, and different origin stories exist. But the age-old tradition oscillates between paganism and Christianity, according to Qualey. The tradition is commonly associated with spring and Easter.
But the process is much more elaborate and complex than your standard Easter egg dye kit.
The name pysanky ― or pysanka in the singular ― is derived from the Ukrainian verb pysaty, which means to write, according to TIME, and refers to writing on eggs.
Pysanky’s are created using a wax resist method. The egg is drawn using a tool called kitska and melted wax. Then the egg is dipped in the dye. The process is repeated to create a beautifully decorated egg.
“You just keep adding wax, dipping it in another color, adding wax, dipping it in another color, and you work from your light colors to your dark colors and just build your pattern through a series of color dips and at the end you heat the eggs and wipe off the wax and all your colors and patterns are left behind,” Qualey said.
Qualey – who also works in a wax-resistant watercolor style called batik – learned to make pysanky around 20 years ago while attending a workshop in New Hampshire. It has since become a tradition for her family to decorate eggs using this method around Easter, although her collection of pysanky often come out around Christmas as gifts and decorations as well.
Pysanky is intended to be stored for more than one season. Traditionally, eggs are decorated with the raw contents still inside. Since the eggs are porous, Qualey said they will dry out over time. However, Qualey said she prefers to blow the eggs before decorating them. Modern homes are hotter, which can cause the contents of an egg to try faster than the shell can handle, causing cracks.
“We throw little pysanky parties and invite friends over and decorate eggs and sometimes we just do it as a family,” Qualey said. “You feel a little warm and fuzzy when you take them out because you remember this person did this and this person did that.”
The geometric and floral patterns that are a signature of this decorating style can seem intimidating. But Qualey said it’s actually quite easy to learn, especially once you figure out how to watch the egg in sections and follow patterns widely available in books, as well as online.
Qualey, who is not Ukrainian herself, held a virtual protest on Thursday evening. Although it was free, she asked people who tuned in to consider donating to UNICEF, and around $800 was raised.
“It’s really heartbreaking and so difficult to see all that is happening [in Ukraine] and I feel so helpless,” Qualey said. “[This craft] is a little piece of Ukraine that I have loved and been part of for so much of my life that I just felt it would be nice to share it.
On the Qualey Coast, Brooksville resident Abbie McMillen had the same desire to put her pysanky knowledge to good use. McMillen, who is also not Ukrainian, learned to decorate eggs in this style about 15 or 20 years ago through a course at her local library.
After getting into the art form, McMillen began raising chickens so she could use their eggs to make pysanky. She stopped raising chickens several years ago, but she still had a basket full of eggs she had puffed up and she had everything needed for decoration. So she decided to organize a workshop.
“It’s because there’s a need and the fact that I have the tools and the skills to help people learn how to do it and its 100% giving. I donate time and materials and people donate money,” McMillen said.
The two workshops she led on April 9 and 10―which were each limited to 10 people―at the Brooksville Town House raised more than $4,300 for the World Central Kitchen, an organization that provides food to Ukrainian refugees.
With last weekend’s workshops resulting in a waiting list of around 20 people, McMillen plans to hold two more next month, May 21 and 22.
“You can’t know what’s going on and not want to do something, so it’s just something I was able to do,” McMillen said.