Pisanki: An Ancient Art of Hope and Life
by Lorraine Grochowska-Kiefer
Although the ancient European art of "Pisanki" has become
very closely associated with Easter, it first came about more than 2000
years ago when people realized the connection between the egg and spring.
(Our chickens always lay many more eggs in spring, when the daylight
hours are long, than in fall and winter). After the dark, cold, and
death of winter, the egg symbolized rebirth or hope. Even then certain
people used wax and natural dyes to decorate the eggs with meaningful
symbols. There is also an old legend that says that every pisanki egg made will reinforce the chain that holds an old evil monster in the bowels of the earth.
The "chicken and rooster" were symbols of fertility and grain
symbolized plenty or good harvest.
They used onion skins, buckwheat husks, campion, bark of the wild apple and the flower of the lilac for yellow. For red they used cochinel (a female scale insect), deer horn, sandlewood, or beets. Green came from sunflower seeds and berries of the wild alder. Sometimes hollyhock blooms were used for certain shades, as well as various other blooms, leaves and moss. Today, we buy our dyes for the most part, although one time we tried onion skins, beets and some berries.
A thousand years later, when much of Eastern Europe had embraced Christianity, the eggs were still made and considered to be a Lenten project in Poland. They were often made with Easter symbols, as well as some of the natural ones. The sun became the symbol for rebirth.
Words may be written or designs drawn on the egg with a stylus and·bee's wax. Then, the egg is dipped in a light color, usually yellow dye and allowed to dry. The wax is then used to write or cover that which will be yellow in the decorated egg. I like to cover a lot of yellow so that the egg is bright and colorful. After this step, I dip the egg in orange and then in red, of course covering each color with some design made in wax.
Choose a clean, hard raw egg that has no cracks in it. If it is from the store, you might want to dip it in a quart of water in which a tablespoon of vinegar has been added. Blot dry, never rub. (I have chickens so I try to gather some fresh eggs to use when I can).
The writing tool or kistka usually has a funnel on the end. It is held in a flame to become hot enough to melt the wax. Some people like to scoop small amounts into the funnel, others prefer to put the hot tip on the wax and allow it to siphon. Either way works, but it is important to keep the wax hot, but not so over-heated that it drips or runs out too fast. Practice will give you the proper feel for this procedure. Once the final step is completed and most of the color is covered, the egg may be dipped in black or some other dark color. Then, when it is dry, the wax may be melted off by holding the egg off to the side of the flame until it slides off. I wipe at this point with a soft rag or tissue. The finished egg must be kept at least at room temperature to varnish so that it shines. Allow several hours for the varnished egg to dry.
Pisanki are given in love. Young people used to make one for their beloved. Family members and friends would exchange one with the traditional three kisses after the Easter Mass. The new Pisanki made each Lent would be taken to the church for the blessing when the food basket of Easter food was blessed on Easter Saturday.
Remember that the raw egg dries and the eggs keep as long as they are not damaged or cracked. I have two that are more than 50 years old. They sit in a china cabinet behind glass.
The photographs to the right site show Ukrainian pisanki, the picture to the left shows Polish wydmuszki. If you are interested in purchasing these decorative eggs please e-mail Bartek.
article and photographs by Lorraine Grochowska Kiefer
contact the author by e-mail
Check all the articles about Polish Easter traditions in the Polish Culture website, there are a couple of articles devoted to painted eggs among them Easter Eggs - dyed, scratched & blown - Kraszanki, Skrobanki & Wydmuszki .
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