Pysanky Easter Eggs

Pysanky Easter Eggs

There's quite a difference between the eggs the Easter bunny brings and the ones Chrisinda Bowlin decorates. She turns delicate shells into masterpieces no one would ever dream of hiding.

"I work on my eggs all year. It's addictive! As I finish one, I'm planning the next," Chrisinda says from her home studio near Colville, Washington, where she lives with her husband, Chris, and their two young children.

"I make pysanky, also called Ukrainian Easter eggs. Traditionally, Eastern Europeans decorated and gave these gorgeous eggs to family and friends as a way of wishing them good fortune and blessings," she explains.

"Everything about them is symbolic—each color and design has a special meaning. Everyone, young and old, received an egg for Easter. Pysanky were displayed in the home and even hung by the barn door to protect the people and animals inside."

Chrisinda first learned the oval art form in high school. "But I really got into it a few years later, when we had our children," she recalls. "I needed a creative outlet. And decorating pysanky was one I could start, put down to do chores, then pick up and begin again."

Minding Her Beeswax

"I use an electric penlike tool called a kistka to hand-draw designs onto the shell with melted wax. Then the egg is dipped in dye and dried," Chrisinda notes.

"The waxing and dyeing are repeated, using a variety of shades. Each application of wax protects the previous dye color.

"My favorite part is the unveiling! When I've finished decorating, I heat up the egg with a candle and melt the wax off the shell, revealing the patterns I've created.

Finally, I coat the egg with a high-gloss varnish to make it stronger and keep the colors from fading.

"I sell my Ukrainian eggs at local craft shows and on my Web site. Sometimes, when people ask for custom designs, I add names, dates or quotations. I trim other eggs with snowflakes and I glue findings to the tops to create hanging Christmas tree ornaments."

Her fragile canvases range from ostrich and rhea eggs to quail and pheasant shells, each emptied of its contents and cleaned. "But I depend on my 'girls' to provide eggs for most of my projects," Chrisinda says, nodding at her backyard flock of ducks, geese and chickens.

Taking up to eight hours each to complete, Chrisinda's intricate eggs have earned acclaim—including an invitation to Washington, D.C. "The American Egg Board asked me to design a piece for the annual White House egg display," she notes. "I sold pysanky to raise money for our daughter, Serina, and me to go and see it. What a thrill!"

At age 12, Serina is already dabbling in Ukrainian egg decorating. "Her brother, Nathaniel, 10, hasn't caught the egging bug yet," says Chrisinda. "But he does love taking care of our birds.

"Nathaniel was the first to remind me that my White House egg wasn't all my doing," she adds with a smile. "Our hen Anna did a lot of the work."

More About Pysanky

Pysanky are Ukrainian Easter eggs, decorated by using beeswax and bright dyes to make elaborate patterns. Ancient Ukrainians believed these eggs possessed great powers, and they handed down the artistic technique over generations.

Traditionally, every color and design had a symbolic meaning. Eggs were personalized specifically for each recipient. Here are samples of some commonly used symbols and colors.

  • Deer, horse or ram symbolizes wealth and prosperity
  • Sun and stars represent life, fortune and growth
  • Poppies (beloved Ukrainian art motif) symbolize joy and beauty
  • Yellow: light, purity, youth, happiness, hospitality
  • Red: happiness in life, hope, passion, the sun
  • Blue: the sky with its life-giving air, good health