September 2016

Pysanky Decorative Eggs


Pysanky Decorative EggsThe tradition of painting eggs originated in Christian antiquity. The early Christian narrative goes that Mary Magdalene presented an egg to the Roman Emperor as a symbol of eternal life in Jesus. The emperor responded that Jesus was as likely to rise from the dead as the egg was to turn red, then the egg was said to have turned red proving Mary’s words about Jesus’s resurrection. It is now custom to exchange painted eggs on Easter day in the Christian tradition in celebration of Christ’s triumph over death. Another explanation for the egg-painting tradition is that in ancient times eggs were forbidden food during the Lenten season, so people would paint and decorate them to mark the end of the fasting period, then eat them on Easter as a celebration.


As time passed, eggs made of different materials, such as wood or porcelain, replaced actual eggs. Most people would simply paint actual bird eggs themselves rather than buy eggs made of expensive materials or painted by an artist. The more expensive eggs portrayed biblical scenes painted by skilled artists in Eastern and Western Europe, but were often quite costly and exchanged only by aristocratic families. In Russia, the last czar commissioned Faberge, a jeweler, to make these eggs of precious minerals, such as gold or crystals, and elaborate designs. Although not quite as magnificent as the Faberge eggs, this ancient tradition continues in South Dakota. The eggs featured this month were decorated by a local artist, Lillian Namyniuk Hellickson, from Brookings. These particular eggs are “Pysanky’, which refers to the Ukrainian design method that uses beeswax to draw the patterns onto the egg rather than paint them.

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