Handmade Ukrainian Easter eggs by Kathleen Day
Pysanky Pop Up Runs through 'til April 29
Gallery Hours: 2 p.m. - 6 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday
Bring one of these beauties home for $50!
Profits go to support the Edmonton-born artist and photographer, Catalina eke-ing it out in Berlin.
Pysanky are Ukrainian Easter eggs decorated with traditional Ukrainian designs using a wax-resist (batik) method. This craft was brieﬂy introduced to me when I was in elementary school, then re-introduced by a friend last summer. Initially, I found the patterns very beautiful and the practice of drawing on eggs strange and intriguing. The process of making a pysanka adds to the appeal of this work. Using a batik method, I work backwards, adding wax to the places on the egg where she wishes the colour to remain, then dipping the egg in a new colour of ink. Throughout the process, colour and wax continue to be added. Once ﬁnished, all of the wax is melted off, and I can ﬁnally see what the pysanka looks like. The ﬁnished product is always a surprise, much in the same way a picture developed in the darkroom is.
Growing up in Edmonton, half of my family comes from Ukraine. Even though I have never been there, I feel strong connections to this country. The eggs on display, are decorated with traditional Ukrainian designs, because it is my intention to honour this tradition in the way that it has been developed and practiced for centuries. My background is photography, and in my previous bodies of work I have focused on documenting the people in certain cultures, this collection is different because I am not participating as an outsider, but taking a ﬁrst-hand approach to master a cultural practice.
Kathleen Day is a visual artist, originally from Edmonton, Alberta. She received a degree from The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) with a major in photography in 2013. In addition, she also completed two off-campus exchanges at L’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and Ar.co in Lisbon. After spending one year living and working in Madrid she returned to work at the Library and Archives Canada as a digital imaging technician at the Preservation Centre in Gatineau.
Day has been very involved in the arts community in Edmonton and abroad. She has shown her work across Canada and in Europe in several group and solo shows. She also enjoys volunteering at The Drawing Room assisting in the gallery and bookstore! She is currently based in Berlin working as a freelance photographer.
Decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs, Pysanky are made using a wax-resist (batik) method. Many other eastern European ethnic groups decorate eggs using wax resist for Easter, including the Belarusians (pisanka), Bulgarians (pisano yaytse), Croats (pisanica), Czechs (kraslice), Hungarians (hímestojás), Lithuanians (margutis), Poles (pisanka), Romanians (ou" vopsite, incondeiate or impistrite), Serbs (pisanica), Slovaks (kraslica), Slovenes (pisanica, pirhi or remenke) and Sorbs (jejka pisac).
According to many scholars, the art of wax-resist (batik) egg decoration in Slavic cultures, and particularly in Ukraine dates back to the pre-christian era. Scholars They base this on the widespread nature of the practice, and pre-christian nature of the symbols utilized.
As in many ancient cultures, Ukrainians worshipped a sun god, Dazhboh. The sun was important - it warmed the earth and thus was a source of all life. Eggs decorated with nature symbols became an integral part of spring rituals, serving as benevolent talismans.
•••In pre-Christian times, Dazhboh was one of the major deities in the Slavic pantheon; birds were the sun god's chosen creations, for they were the only ones who could get near him. Humans could not catch the birds, but they did manage to obtain the eggs the birds laid. Thus, the eggs were magical objects, a source of life. The egg was also honoured during rite-of-Spring festivals––it represented the rebirth of the earth. The long, hard winter was over; the earth burst forth and was reborn just as the egg miraculously burst forth with life. The egg therefore, was believed to have special powers.
With the advent of Christianity the symbolism of the egg was changed to represent, not nature's rebirth, but the rebirth of man. Christians embraced the egg symbol and likened it to the tomb from which Christ rose. With the acceptance of Christianity in 988, the decorated pysanka, in time, was adapted to play an important role in Ukrainian rituals of the new religion.
The art of the pysanka was carried abroad by Ukrainian emigrants to North and South America, where the custom took hold, and concurrently banished in Ukraine by the Soviet regime (as a religious practice), where it was nearly forgotten.
† • Ukrainians who live in the Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine ( The Hutsuls), believe that the fate of the world depends upon the pysanka. As long as the egg decorating custom continues, the world will exist. If this custom is abandoned, evil in the shape of a horrible serpent who is forever chained to a cliff will overrun the world. Each year the serpent sends out his minions to see how many pysanky have been created. If the number is low the serpent's chains are loosened and he is free to wander the earth causing havoc and destruction. If, on the other hand, the number of pysanky has increased, the chains are tightened and good triumphs over evil for yet another year. • †
Superstitions and Folk Beliefs
Pysanky are believed to protect households from evil spirits, catastrophe, lightning and ﬁres. Pysanky with spiral motifs were the most powerful, as the demons and other unholy creatures would be trapped within the spirals forever. A blessed pysanka could be used to ﬁnd demons hidden in the dark corners of your house.
Pysanky held powerful magic, and had to be disposed of properly, lest a witch get a hold of one. She could use the shell to gather dew, and use the gathered dew to dry up a cow's milk. The witch could also use bits of the eggshell to poke people and sicken them. The eggshell had to be ground up very ﬁnely (and fed to chickens to make them good egg layers) or broken into pieces and tossed into a running stream.•••
The cloth used to dry pysanky was powerful, too, and could be used to cure skin diseases. And it was considered very bad luck to trample on a pysanka–God would punish anyone who did with a variety of illnesses.
There were superstitions regarding the colors and designs on the pysanky. One old Ukrainian myth centered on the wisdom of giving older people gifts of pysanky with darker colors and/or rich designs, for their life has already been ﬁlled. Similarly, it is appropriate to give young people pysanky with white as the predominant color because their life is still a blank page. Girls would often give pysanky to young men they fancied, and include heart motifs. It was said, though, that a girl should never give her boyfriend a pysanky that has no design on the top and bottom of the egg, as this might signify that the boyfriend would soon lose his hair. ♥
Red - is probably the oldest symbolic color, and has many meanings. It represents life-giving blood, and often appears on pysanky with nocturnal and heavenly symbols. It represents love and joy, and the hope of marriage. It is also associated with the sun.
Black - is a particularly sacred color, and is most commonly associated with the "other world," but not in a negative sense.
Yellow - symbolized the moon and stars and also, agriculturally, the harvest.
Blue - Represented blue skies or the air, and good health.
White - Signiﬁed purity, birth, light, rejoicing, virginity.
Green - the color of new life in the spring. Green represents the resurrection of nature, and the riches of vegetation.
Brown - represents the earth.
Black and white - mourning, respect for the souls of the dead.
Black and red - this combination was perceived as "harsh and frightful," and very disturbing. It is common in Podillya, where both serpent motifs and goddess motifs were written with this combination.
Four or more colors - the family's happiness, prosperity, love, health and achievements.