As Nancy Shute reported in 2012, Ukrainians have for centuries practiced an ancient form of art, drawing intricate patterns on eggs using a traditional method that involves a stylus and wax.
It’s called pysanky, and it’s alive and well in Ukraine and Ukrainian immigrant communities around the world.
Even 2,000 years ago, people seemed to know that the egg could be a source of life. They practiced a form of egg worship (which in modern times we’re not above), owing to the egg’s supposed magical power. In Christian times, the egg picked up the association with the resurrection and rebirth.
Contemporary artists have adapted the ancient artisan methods to create eggs that speak to the anxieties of our age: Eggs are precious and fragile, just like life.
We’ve encored Nancy’s beautiful slideshow because this year Eastern Orthodox Easter falls on the same day as Western Easter: Sunday, April 20. So this week, pysanky artists are hunched and squinting as they paint elaborate patterns onto eggs.
We’d wondered whether pysanky artists hard-boil their eggs before painting them or prefer to work with raw eggs. The tradition, according to pysanky artist Chrystya Geremesz, who founded the Ukrainian American Society of Texas, is to use raw eggs. And turns out there’s even an art to choosing eggs for pysanky and keeping them safe for years to come, so that the liquid inside eventually dries up and you’re not stuck with a rotten mess of broken shell.
According to the UAST, it’s important to start with fresh eggs with no thin spots, flaws or cracks. If you’re painting raw eggs, you must keep them dry, out of extreme heat or cold to prevent cracking or explosions.
Geremesz tells The Salt that some artists empty the egg before painting it, but that can make it harder to hold and work with.
So she always advises people to empty the egg out by poking a small hole at the bottom after they’re done painting. With a raw egg, you’re taking a chance. “And I don’t like taking chances,” says Geremesz.
With or without the insides, the pysanky will last indefinitely if you store them carefully and don’t break them. (The oldest bits of chicken egg-pysanka that have been excavated date back to the 17th century.)