An Amazing Pysanka Egg!

This last week I was given the most amazing birthday gift from my friend, Olga Dovgopola.  She gave to me a Ukrainian pysanka egg that she made herself!  It is, without a doubt, one of the most stunningly beautiful pieces of art that I have ever seen, and I am remarkably humbled to have it in my collection.

To me, art can be found in so many elements of life.  But it is the creation of art by human hands that, typically, tells the story of a people.  From that standpoint, art history is closely linked with anthropology.  It’s an aspect of art that I have always found fascinating. 

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In the case of pysanka art, it is a craft rooted in Ukrainian culture and replete with a language all its own.  Resplendent motifs cover these rare gems that bespeak wishes of health, happiness, love, fertility, prosperity and wealth.  To be given one is the most incredible of gestures that actually had me quite emotional and thrilled.  Thank you Olga and Johnny!

What’s a Pysanka?

It’s a Ukrainian Easter egg that is decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs that include a great deal of symbolism.  The word pysanka comes from the very pysaty, to “write” or “scribe”.  “Pysanka” is the singular form, “pysanky” being the plural form. 

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Psysanky art stretches back through Ukrainian culture for generations.  In fact, Ukrainians have been decorating eggs for centuries. The earliest examples of the motifs used in pysanky designs dates back to pre-Christian times.  While the motifs themselves have remained, the interpretation has often changed through time.  For instance, a triangle that once might have represented the elements earth, fire and water, was co-opted by Christianity to represent the Holy Trinity.  You will also see it in examples of the fish, which originally may have meant a plentiful catch but now stands for Christ, the “fisher of men.”  This is a practice often seen in history as a way to bridge pagan belief systems and Christianity.

The method:

The method of decorating a pysanka egg is done through wax resist.  Essentially you cover the sections of egg you want protected with wax, then dye the remaining egg, then repeat this process for each different color you want on the egg. In the case of my egg, there is, at least, 4 different colors.

The process is very much like batik cloth dying. I find that there is an intense amount of skill required to envision these designs and develop them as you make the egg.  It’s stunning to think of seeing this design in your head and then to begin laying it out. Even as it is developed and changed in-process, the ability and creativity to see a finished product and, in effect, “release” that design is nothing short of true artistry.  I remain amazed at the skills my friend possesses.  As an artist, she is clearly extraordinary.      

The symbolism

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In the egg Olga has made for me, I am able to see several traditional motifs.  First, and most prominent are deer.  These represent wealth and prosperity.  There is a sun motif that rather cleverly, I think, includes a net in the center.  The sun represents life, fortune and growth, while the net could be a Judeo-Christian reference to becoming “fishers of people”.  Also, sprinkled throughout the major motifs are pine needle designs, which are symbols of health, stamina, and eternal youth!  I especially need that eternal youth one!  Olga thinks of everything!  There are also a couple curls, which symbolize defense or protection, and ladders which symbolize prosperity or prayer.  How could I go wrong with all those good thoughts and wishes??! 

A Profound Thank You

To Olga, and Johnny – thank you both. This gift is truly an unparalleled work of art and I remain humbled and grateful for your kind thoughts, generosity of time and caring, and the selflessness of sharing your art with me. It’s something I will always treasure.

2 Responses

  • Eddy Green

    Ethan,
    Your blog is so inspired. Thank you. Further, it has been too long. Probably you were kind enough to sell Heather and I a washer and dryer a few years back. I hope that you are still playing both your amazing telecaster and strat. Thanks to you, I still have my old strat that I acquired back in high school. Have a wonderful spring after this crazy winter we have all had in the Midwest!

    Sincerely,
    Eddy

    Reply
    • Eddy! It’s so good to hear from you!! It has been far too long, my friend. The winter has indeed been crazy and particularly wicked up here in Minnesota, but I do hope you are finding the midwest rewarding. As Kerouac said, the road isn’t made of brick, it’s made up of our experiences and the people we meet along the way! I did indeed still have my strats and teles! I also have a fantastic Fender Starcaster (the reissue from the 80’s), a couple hollowbodies and as always- my beloved les paul. 🙂 I am so glad you still have your strat! it’s always good to have one of those around. You think of all these legendary guitarists that have played so many different types of instruments, and yet so many of them end up gravitating toward a strat. That’s very curious. I hope you have a great spring as well, my friend, and don’t hesitate to reach out! -Ethan

      Reply

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