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Pysanky workshop shares Ukrainian tradition

Fourth-generation Ukrainian-American and University of Scranton Professor Amelia Randich, Ph.D., holds Ukrainian Easter Eggs she designed.
Kat Bolus, WVIA News
Fourth-generation Ukrainian-American and University of Scranton Professor Amelia Randich, Ph.D., holds Ukrainian Easter Eggs she designed.

Amateur Pysanky artists drew wax lines on hollow eggs Sunday in a former-Unitarian church turned art center.

Amelia Randich, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Scranton. A fourth-generation Ukrainian-American, she taught two workshops on creating the Ukrainian Easter Eggs last weekend in the university’s Smurfit Arts Center.

The workshops were kind of a first for Randich and a fundraiser for World Central Kitchen. The global nonprofit is helping feed Ukrainians displaced or without food during Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Randich usually teaches intermediate Pysanky classes. Because of the war, she wanted to share her tradition with more people.

"For me being able to share this with people while fundraising is great," said Randich. "What I really want them to take out of it is to learn a little bit about the intricacies and the richness of Ukrainian traditions, give them a chance to reflect on Ukraine in a way that's not anti-Russian. There's ... a different thing at stake here which is keeping the Ukrainian spirit alive and so it's nice that people can have a slice of that."

The designs on the ornamental eggs are not drawn or painted, they are written, she said. The word Pysanky comes from “to write” in Ukrainian. The tradition predates Christianity in Ukraine. It was originally a pagan practice to celebrate the spring equinox, she said. It was eventually incorporated for the Easter season.

Randich learned how to write from her mother, who learned from her mother.

The practice in Ukraine is "from a tradition that was reproducing the same designs over and over again," said Randich.

The eggs started as magic talismans.

"They're like spells or prayers and ... executing them in a certain way and using certain specific symbols and motifs was the message," she said.

Mason jars of yellow, red and black aniline dye sat on a large work table in the art center on Sunday. The dye is special to the process and permanent.

Randich set her students up with small white candles and a block of yellow wax stuck to paper plates. The writers used the candle to heat up a Kiska, which is a metal funnel they filled with wax attached to a pen-shaped instrument.

With the Kiska, they split the surface of the egg into eight acute triangles to create a windmill-like design. Once they were satisfied with their first round of lines they dipped the eggs in yellow dye. After the dye set, they wiped the eggs down and filled in the triangles with horizontal lines. Then back to the table to dip the eggs in red, followed by either a final set of lighting-bolt shapes or ovals. The egg’s final dye dip was into black, which became the dominant color. The dark dye required more time to set and Randich used pressure from a spoon inside the mason jars to stop the hollow eggs from floating.

She walked the group through finishing their eggs, instructing them to hold the dyed ovals to the side of the flame to melt off the wax. Randich damped a paper towel with Goo Gone to clear off any remaining wax and finally varnished the egg and its final design with vaseline.

Randich is originally from the Chicago area but has found a home among Ukrainians in Northeast Pennsylvania. At 37, she’s estimated that she’s made over 1,000 Pysanky since she learned the tradition. Randich writes elaborate eggs in traditional styles and designs of her own. She posts her art on her blog, Pysanky Power.

“What's wonderful about the art is that there's this sense that you get to express this undying spirit of a culture," she said, adding that the Soviets really tried to stamp out that culture. "So there is this feeling of surviving despite all odds, which you can see is a huge part of the Ukrainian spirit.”

Randich plans to hold more Pysanky workshops after Easter. Check the University of Scranton’s website for more information.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.