Mar 2, 2018
By Sam Sirdofsky
Long referred to as Russian Easter Eggs, pysanki are a truly Ukrainian folk art form based on mythical power symbols, dating back to the time of sun and bear worship.
Each symbol within the decoration carries a message portion, so one doesn’t simply draw designs…one WRITES a pysanka (singular). Clear into the early 20th century, pysanki were buried in fields to assure crop abundance, placed in graves to comfort the deceased, tucked into bedding, ground up and eaten as medicine, walked around barns, rubbed on animals to protect livestock, even left on doorsteps as a token of love.
As needs demanded, a single family might produce up to 60 carefully written eggs each spring, from chickens, geese, and pigeons.
Early in its formation, clearly recognizing the value of such potent power, the Eastern Orthodox church folded pysanki into their Easter celebrations with the symbol for fire repurposed as the crucifix. During the atheistic Stalin period, Pysanka writing was almost stamped out. A cherished part of the culture almost lost forever.
Today, as the Ukraine works feverishly to regain it’s separate identity, archeologists and scholars are carefully translating the symbols. Schoolchildren are learning pysanka writing, and serious artisans are working to become “Pysanka Masters” a once respected occupation.
Important collections of antique pysanki may be found in London and New York museums, and a few priceless private from the Ukraine to Canada.
While symbols are carefully adhered to, artistic choices vary greatly from province to province with flowers, crops, and livestock in warm areas, deer and pines in the cold North.
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