Hope Public SchoolsSchool News

Ukrainian eggs have strict family ties

Sometimes, you need to break a few eggs to get it right; which emphasizes the delicacy of Ukrainian egg art. The ancient egg decoration technique has its roots in Eastern and Central Europe as an Easter tradition, but has come to be a popular Christmas ornament idea in the U.S. Hope High School art students in Kendrick Adams’ classes learned the technique from Artist in Residence Sue Allen Pico prior to the Christmas break. – Ken McLemore/Hope Public Schools

By Ken McLemore

HOPE – The artworks which Kendrick Adams’ Hope High School students took home with them this holiday season have less to do with the Christmas tradition than the ancient proprietary pride of the families who originated the concept.

Arts in Education Artist in Residence Sue Pico has adapted the unique technique of creating Ukrainian egg art for holiday ornamentation as a means to convey important traditions across cultures.

“They aren’t about Christmas at all, really,” Pico noted. “They originated around the Easter idea, the rebirth, but they’ve been sort of adapted as Christmas ornaments.”

Known as “pysanky,” the technique takes a plain, white chicken egg and converts it into an ornament using the “wax-resist method” to create a design template which is dyed to produce multi-colored patterns on the outside shell of the egg.

Designs are traced on the egg shell in pencil, then the egg is hollowed out by drilling a small hole in the top and bottom to drain it. Black wax is then applied to the design template using a tool known as a “kistka” which resembles the working end of a dentist’s drill.

Once the wax is applied to the template design, the egg is dipped in dye to provide the foundation color in spaces not covered by the wax which seals the template design. Wax is added to the design and the egg is dyed, again, and as many times as necessary to fill in the desired color scheme. When completely colored, the wax is melted away with a candle, leaving the template design outlined in white against the colored dye. The design is typically protected by a glaze.

“You would think the designs are the important thing,” Pico notes of the elaborate traditional depictions of religious motifs and stylized nature or geometric references. “It’s the dye recipe that is most closely guarded.”

The colors and color patterns created on the egg shell reflect traditionally specific family origins from Eastern Europe, Pico said. Those distinctions are often handed over from generation to generation.

“I love to develop and teach a variety of performing, visual and language arts programs,” Pico notes in her official biography.

A Summa Cum Laude graduate from Northern State University of Aberdeen, SD with a double major in Fine Arts and Cumulative Art Education, Pico teaches the arts in public and private schools, churches, and various other venues. She has been part of the Arts in Education roster of the Arkansas Arts Council since 1998, teaching in the Hope Public Schools through the Southwest Arkansas Arts Council.

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