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Preeceville women passionate about keeping Ukrainian family traditions alive

Ukrainian culture of decorating eggs steeped in tradition
Ukrainian Easter Eggs_result
In keeping with the Ukrainian tradition Doreen Bochnuik of Preeceville has decorated many eggs, each with its own special design.

PREECEVILLE - The art of Ukrainian Easter Egg decorating has become a passion and a tradition for Doreen Bochnuik and her family.

Bochnuik was first introduced to the Pysanky (art of decorating eggs) in Grade 9 from her Ukrainian language teacher, Alfred Hladun, who had brought it into the classroom to teach the history and customs of the Ukrainian culture.

“While still a student and living at home, I would make Pysanky every year during the Easter season,” said Bochnuik. “I had taken a long break from it until I had children and decided to make it part of our yearly Easter tradition in our home. A few people had asked me to teach them how to do it at home and then I started going to Culture day and the nursing home to share this special tradition. I have really enjoyed sharing my hobby with others, we always have so much fun! Young or old, anyone can create a Pysanky!  Although I am not an expert at it, I really do enjoy the stages and steps of decorating a Pysanky, from the first layer of wax and the continuing layers of wax and dye that leads up to the final unveiling of a beautiful piece of art.” she said.

One egg could take many hours or days to create, depending on the intricacy of the design. Georgia Johnson and Norman Harris of the Endeavour area were well known for their intricate designs and patterns on Ukrainian Easter eggs. Bochniuk fondly remembers growing up seeing their eggs on display and for sale at Paul’s Drugs and was in awe of their creations.  “I usually pull out my dyes, wax and tools early in March and make six to eight eggs a season,” she said.

Georgia decorated two ostrich eggs for a family friend many years ago and during a recent visit, she had the opportunity to see them again. These took Georgia many, many hours to complete and are still beautiful.

The history of Pysanky is very interesting. Colours, styles, designs, symbols all have specific meanings to the different regions of the Ukraine. The creation and the blessing of Pysanky was an important part to the Ukrainian culture.

“This is one way that I keep a small part of my Ukrainian heritage alive. My favorite design is the forty triangles. This design reflects the pre-Christian era where each triangle represented a prayer or magical belief, relating to the total life of the peoples and signifying the forty tasks of life,” stated Bochnuik.

In the Christian interpretation, the design signifies the forty day Lenten period, the forty days of Christs fasting, the forty martyrs or the forty birds hovering around the forty martyrs.

The Ukrainian pysanka (plural: pysanky) was believed to possess enormous power, not only in the egg itself (which harbored the nucleus of life), but also in the symbolic designs and colours drawn on the egg in a specific manner, according to prescribed rituals. Pysanky were used for various social and religious occasions and were considered to be a talisman, a protection against evil, as well as harbingers of good.

In ancient times pysanky were decorated only by women and young girls. The eggs were chosen with great care – only fertilized eggs were used, from chickens that had laid eggs for the first time. The decorating process was carried out in secret, away from the eyes of strangers, lest someone cast an evil spell on the egg. In pagan times, pysanky were decorated in early spring; with the introduction of Christianity, this was done before Easter.

The symbolic ornamentation of the pysanka consists mainly of geometric motifs, with some animal and plant elements. The most important motif is the stylized symbol of the sun, which is represented as a broken cross, a swastika (an ancient Sanskrit symbol), a triangle, an eight-point rosette, or a star. Other popular motifs are endless lines, stylized flowers, leaves, the tree of life, and some animal figures such as horses, stags, and birds. The influence of Christianity introduced such elements as crosses, churches, and fish.

The most popular method of decorating pysanky is the wax-resist method, known as batik. A special instrument called a kystka or ryl'tse is used to "write" the design. (Pysanka comes from the verb pysaty, to write.) The dyes used to decorate pysanky also had a symbolic meaning. Red symbolized the sun, life, joy; yellow stood for wealth and fertility; green was the symbol of spring and plant life. In the not-too-distant past, artisans prepared their own dyes, using natural products such as the bark of oak or ash trees, twigs from sour apple trees, saffron or willow tree leaves. Today, chemical dyes are used.

It took a long time for the Ukrainian pysanka to develop and achieve perfection. Although contemporary artisans continue to employ ancient symbols and traditional colours on the egg, the pysanka is no longer considered to be a talisman, just a beautiful folk art object.

There are a few different tools and methods for decorating Pysanky and Bochnuik uses a hand held kystka and bees wax using a candle for heating the kystka. To remove the wax, she dips the egg in a hot lard. There are electric kystkas available to purchase as well as different types of bees wax and dyes. Paul’s drugs has been getting in the supplies for the last several years so it’s been nice to pick up supplies so easily. The dye is very potent and if stored properly can be re-used year after year. You can change the brightness of your dye by adding a bit of vinegar into the jar. Kystkas come in different sizes- fine, medium and heavy. Its handy to have at least one of each so that you can make varying designs. A fine point is used for making intricate designs where a heavy point is used for filling in areas on your egg.

Doreen also stated that a clean egg is so important and farm eggs work the best. Any type of egg will do including duck, goose and chicken, as long as it’s an unwashed, clean, white egg. “I often use white duck eggs because they are a little larger and are bright white. It is very handy that I raise some ducks,” she added.

To ensure that your pysanky lasts for many years, draining the yolk out of the egg and spraying it with a spray varnish will ensure that it lasts many years. Many people don’t drain the yolk, they just let the egg dry.