Pysanka takes egg decorating to next level

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 9:17 p.m.

Joe Reskosky of Uniontown remembers watching his father make pysanka, the traditional decorated eggs common in Eastern Europe.

He now celebrates this art form at the annual pysanka class at St. John's Byzantine Catholic Church in Uniontown.

Reskosky, who is of Ukrainian descent, recalls how his father made pysanka with rustic tools.

“He used beeswax, a nail to draw on the designs and a straight pin,” he said.

A retired art instructor, Reskosky passed that tradition on to his students.

“I couldn't melt beeswax because it was too dangerous to have an open flame around young children,” he explained. “So I had my students use wax crayons to make their pysanka. We got good results.”

Pysanka originated in pagan times. The word pysanky, the singular form of pysanka, comes from the Ukrainian word pysaty, to write. This verb reflects the original intent of pysanka, which was to convey individualized messages of good will to loved ones.

To many people, these eggs also represented life and nature's rebirth in the spring and were given as gifts. As Christianity spread throughout Eastern Europe during the 10th century, this tradition was adopted easily by early Christians to celebrate Christ's resurrection. Throughout the following centuries, these eggs would acquire an increasingly prominent role in the Easter traditions of Eastern Europeans.

The eggs are prepared during the holy season of Lent. The eggs are regarded as small tombs, from which life will spring forth.

To make pysanka, one needs a dozen medium raw eggs, a candle, a No. 2 pencil, a stylus, beeswax and dyes of your choice One begins by taking the pencil and drawing a line completely around the egg lengthwise. Starting again at the top of the egg, draw another line so that it crosses the original line at right angles.

Draw a third, horizontal line around the middle of the egg, then place the egg in the lightest dye.

In the meantime, load the stylus with some beeswax and hold the stylus over the flame of the candle to melt the wax. When the wax is ready, make your design. The design will remain yellow.

Dip the egg into the next darkest dye. Make your designs. Each design will take on the color of the dye. Repeat until your egg is as you want it. When finished, hold the egg in your hands so that the wax melts from the heat. Wipe off the wax gently with a tissue.

Many people make pinholes on each end of the egg, to ‘blow out' the yolk. The eggs can be varnished to enhance their color.

Pysanka has many designs and symbols. For example, the bands commonly found on pysanka symbolize eternity. Fish represent Christianity. Pine trees symbolize youth and health. Triangles represent the Holy Trinity of God the father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Colors represent different concepts. Yellow represents the perpetuation of family. Red represents hope and passion. Blue represents fidelity. Four or more colors represent family harmony and love.

The main event of the pysanka class will be the EggStravaganza from noon to 5 p.m. March 17.

Artists will demonstrate making pysanka and will have hands-on workshops for others who wish to learn the craft.

There will be a Rusyn table, featuring embroidered Easter baskets and other traditional Rusyn items. There will be a Lenten lunch menu available for purchase. Children's activities will be offered.

Nick Morgan, 13, of Smock, discovered pysanka while attending last year's Carpatho-Rusyn Festival.

“I watched people demonstrating pysanka,” Nick said. “ I saw how fun it was and wanted to learn to do it myself. Making pysanka is very soothing.”

Suzanne Jones of Uniontown recalled that her grandfather attended St. John's.

“I remember seeing pysanka and thinking how beautiful they were,” Jones said. “I took classes so that I could learn to make them. I enjoy working with my hands.”

Reskosky said he respects those who take a more traditional approach to making pysanka but he prefers to freelance.

“I make sketches of things I see and incorporate those forms into my pysanka,” he said.

Barbara Starn is a freelance writer.

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