Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
This October an ancient and beautiful folk art form from the Ukraine will be on display at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs.
Masters of Pysanky (Ukrainian Easter Eggs) from as far away as Nova Scotia and Japan will join their American counterparts for Pysanky at the Gardens October 25-28.
“Traditional pysanky (singular pysanka) are Easter eggs used in Eastern Orthodox holiday celebrations that are intricately decorated using geometric designs and symbols which go back to ancient peoples of Eastern Europe,” says Bob Byers, Associate Executive Director at Garvan Woodland Gardens. ”Pysanky are intimately tied to spring and religious beliefs in Eastern Europe but now have become more of an art form.”
Pysanky means "to write" in Ukrainian and practitioners "write" pysanky. It became known as this because each symbol was a prayer, so prayers were inscripted on each egg.
Byers, who has practiced the craft for nine years and has made hundreds of decorated eggs, says most people assume that pysanky are painted (some even call them ‘painted eggs’) but no paint is actually involved in the process at all.
Instead, the application of dyes and wax are used based on a long-time art technique called batik. Artists use a tiny funnel-like tool called a kistka heated with a candle. Melted beeswax is applied to a white eggshell to create the basic outlines of the pattern.
“The kistka gives great control over the wax, allowing a very high level of detail that surprises people when they first see the eggs,” says Byers.
“With painting, you paint on colors where you want the colors to show,” Lorrie Popow, an internationally known Pysanky Master who lives in Hot Springs, describes. “However with batik, you apply wax where you don’t want the colors to show. It works like masking tape. You put the tape... or the wax... where you don't want the colors to go on the wall or doorway...or on the egg. And then you dip the egg into various dyes to achieve the pretty designs and colors.”
Byers and Popow, who met several years ago at a local art gallery, are the founders of Pysanky at the Gardens and are very active in spreading the word about their art passion. They both teach on the subject and belong to many of the same eggshell art groups. “Several members of these groups asked if we could have a ‘southern’ get-together,” says Popow. “Bob said he knew of the perfect place -- Garvan Gardens. Last year I assisted Bob with setting up our first get-together, and we're looking forward to this even larger second event.”
Popow’s interest in pysanky began when she was eight years old. She lived in what is now known as Ukrainian Village in Chicago. “I lived on the same city block of some famous Ukrainian art stores and especially The Ukrainian Museum [which currently hosts some of her work]. All of these displayed beautiful pysanky [gave me] plenty of inspiration.”
Through the years, she spent hours perfecting her technique and trying different dyes, waxes, eggs and other tools. She represented Arkansas with her artwork at The White House Visitor's Center in 2005 and later earned her Master of Egg Art certification from the International Egg Art Guild (IEAG).
She says a good pysanka is not one that has perfectly straight lines or has the most intricate designs or color scheme or even one that uses the best artistic techniques. A deeper connection is involved. “The art of pysanky is a long-time Ukrainian folk art tradition. Decorated eggs were a significant part of everyday life among the villagers. The egg itself was a symbol of life. You would spend many hours creating an egg with special designs to wish a newly married couple happiness. You would create a special pysanka and lovingly give it to a sick person to wish him or her a speedy recovery. A good pysanka is one that captures a special moment on an egg, so the person can remember that time in his or her life. A good pysanka is one that, when given, makes a person laugh, smile or even cry. A good pysanka is one where you give just a little bit of yourself to another person.”
Popow says artists from around the world will be showing different tricks and tips at the event.
“This is a very inexpensive, fun, and very creative activity for the whole family,” adds Byers. “We hope everyone will come and see the eggs by true Pysanky Masters on display at the Gardens and that [the event] will inspire a few to learn about this easy, interesting art form.”
More information on Pysanky at the Gardens is available from Bob Byers at 501-262-9611 or via garvangardens.org. Lorrie Popow also recommends Luba Petrusha's website to learn more about the art form at pysanky.info. She also has a YouTube channel where she uploads step-by-step videos on how to create pysanky at youtube.com/lorriepopow. Garvan Woodland Gardens, which is at 540 Arkridge Road, is located on the shores of Lake Hamilton and is the only botanical garden in the nation that occupies all of a peninsula in a major water body. Popular attractions there include the Joy Manning Scott Full Moon Bridge and The Anthony Chapel, a work of art that features a 57-foot, open-rafter ceiling supported by pine columns and crossbeams.
Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
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