Traditional artists like Betty keep some parts of the traditions that they practice and change other parts. Here are some examples of how Betty kept or changed parts of the pysanky process.
The Great Egg Explosion!
When Betty first started doing pysanky, she learned to keep the white and yolk in the egg shell. There were two reasons for that—the eggs wouldn’t crack as easily and in Ukrainian belief, the whole egg, not just the shell, holds the egg’s power of fertility. But Betty changed that tradition because of the great egg explosion!
Years ago, Betty had some pysanky in her china cabinet. One day she heard a big BANG! Then she smelled a really bad stink. The eggs had exploded! Heat had built up in the cabinet and the pressure exploded the eggs. After that, Betty began to blow out the yolk and white from almost all her eggs!
Eggs are a symbol of fertility and bounty in many cultures because new life comes out of eggs. In Ukraine, Betty’s great-grandmother used decorated eggs to wish for healthy and plentiful crops. At the beginning of planting time, Betty’s great-grandmother rolled an egg in coal dust to make it black. Then she decorated the dark shell by scratching marks on it with a stick or a pin, to let the white show through. She planted the egg in the ground before planting crops. She did the same thing again at harvest time, to wish for a good harvest. Betty used a different method for decorating eggs. She also had different uses and meanings for her eggs—for decoration, to sell or give as gifts, to show her ethnic heritage, and to honor her mother.
Betty’s great-grandmother used coal and a stick to decorate her eggs. Betty’s mother used dyes that she made from berries, bark and onions. Betty remembers Mama heating mysterious brews over the stove for hours. Mama made the dyes all year long and stored them in the root cellar until springtime. Betty used dyes that she bought from a store because it was quicker, easier and the colors were good.
Betty first learned how to decorate krizanky eggs. These are eggs decorated with a drop-pull technique. The artist drops melted wax on to the eggshell, and then quickly pulls it into a tail shape using the head of a straight pin. The dying process is the same as for pysanky, going from light to dark colors and covering each new color with more wax. Betty didn’t make krizanky but instead made the more complicated pysanky.
Betty kept some things about her egg traditions the same. For example, Betty’s mother decorated her eggs only during the six weeks of Lent. Betty did the same, working on her eggs only during that small part of the year. This tradition gives the eggs a religious connection to Easter, something Betty wanted to continue.
Another tradition Betty followed was to dye her eggs with only traditional colors. She could use other dyes, like purple or pink, but Betty chose to use only the colors she first learned. Here are the colors and what they mean:
To find out more, you can visit some of the Ukrainian communities in Wisconsin. Visit Milwaukee (with two Ukrainian churches), Lublin, Thorp, Stanley, or Clayton, Wisconsin. If you ever head up to Canada during the summer, check out the Vegreville Pysanka Festival in July. To see the largest pysanka egg ever, go to Resources For Students for the web link.
“She showed me how she made her own dyes, how she cooked the beet juice and the berry and the bark from the certain tree, and the onion peel.”
– Betty Pisio