Archive for Thursday, April 16, 1992


April 16, 1992


To many Americans, the family tradition of decorating eggs for Easter is something that's done in about an hour with a coloring kit and a few stickers.

But to Ukrainians, decorating eggs for Easter is a highly skilled folk art form that has been handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years, says a retired Kansas University professor.

Michael Palij, professor emeritus of Soviet and East European studies, has set up a display in the lobby of KU's Watson Library this week to celebrate Ukrainian Easter egg art.

"It is really a deep, old tradition," Palij said as he talked about the eggs, which will be on display with Ukrainian embroidery, woodcarving and ceramics through Wednesday.

"It is to sort of raise the spirit of the Easter holiday," Palij said.

In Ukraine, the decorated eggs are called "pysanky" from the word "pysaty," which means "to write."

THE DESIGN is "written" on the egg with a fine-pointed stylus dipped in wax. A series of dye baths follow.

During Easter, Ukrainians customarily exchange the pysanky with relatives and friends, as well as use them in decorations all year, Palij said.

The art was kept as a cultural tradition by passing the knowledge down from mother to daughter through the generations.

Pysanky hold a special place in Ukrainian folk art both because of their symbolic and ritual significance and because of their high level of artistic achievement, Palij said.

He said that, originally, pysanky were associated with mythical and religious beliefs of pagan times. They symbolized the coming of spring and the rebirth of nature.

However, when Christianity reached Ukraine in 988 A.D., the pysanky took on a new meaning. They became associated with the rebirth of life. For Christians, they became the symbol of Christ's resurrection, Palij said.

ACCORDING to information from the Ukrainian National Women's League, when Christianity came to the country, the traditional motifs and designs changed.

For example, the sun became the Son, or Jesus Christ. The triangle, which had represented air, fire and water, became the Holy Trinity, or the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

New symbols, such as the fish, were added to denote Christianity. An egg divided into 40 triangular sections became symbolic of the 40 days of fasting of Christ. Most of the geometric patterns have religious significance, with the cross playing an important part.

Traditionally, the pysanky are brought to church Easter Sunday morning. Once blessed, pysanky are believed to have the power of bringing God's grace into a household.

At one time, the Easter egg was thought to possess magical and healing powers. Peasants placed it in the thatched roof of their homes because it was credited with turning away high winds.

IT ALSO WAS buried in the fields to produce bountiful harvests and put under beehives in hopes of more honey.

The egg also was used by maidens to win a man of their choice or win back their lost loves. And people believed an Easter egg could stop blood poisoning if the patient was touched with it.

Palij said he has acquired his collection over the past 30 years and purchased some of the eggs from Ukrainians in Minneapolis, Chicago and New York.

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