On Display: Pysanky (Ukrainian Decorative Eggs)

This October the Livingston Public Library showcases the unique decorative creations of egg artist Jennifer Santa Maria.

Pysanky, also known as Ukrainian eggs, is a folk tradition that is both art and prayer. The method can be likened to batik – patterns are drawn on the egg with hot beeswax, which then protects the covered areas from the dye that is applied. By repeating this process with different colors of dye, a multi-colored pattern is built up. Finally, the wax is removed to reveal the colors that were covered up at each stage.  To create an intricately designed egg, a special writing tool draws on the egg with wax.  As the egg is dipped in various saturated dyes, the wax preserves each step.  When the wax is removed, the final design is revealed.

Jennifer’s approach to this medium is untraditional in that she explores and experiments with mathematical concepts (self similarity, tessellation, golden ratio, etc.) in her work.  Having been practicing the art for about 11 years, Jennifer says that “she enjoys the therapeutic and soulful process of creating intricate designs on eggs with melted beeswax.”  Though associated with the spring, she practices the art all year round and uses the wax from her two beehives and eggs from her own chickens. She works with untraditional dyes as well.  Whereas, most practicing artists use a limited color palette, Jennifer works with dyes ranging from lavender to seafoam green. “I use a traditional kista (the tool used to draw with wax) and an electric one for more detailed linework,” she adds.

Jennifer is a high school art teacher in Tinton Falls and has exhibited her decorative eggs in various settings such as Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton NJ.  She has been teaching pysanky classes on the East coast for several years from Vermont to Delaware in artist retreat centers, libraries, art museums, galleries and private sessions in intimate spaces, keeping this ancient art alive every spring. 

“ The finished product, with its intricate designs and symbols, does not suggest the meditative process involved” according to Jennifer. “A great deal of patience and concentration is required to complete a single egg, but it is very rewarding to reveal your hard work when the wax is taken off. Since I am not of Ukrainian heritage, use religious imagery, and deeply appreciate the traditions and culture, I refer to my work as “batik eggs” , she adds.

The display features some colorful and exquisitely designed eggs created within the past 3 years.  Speaking of the pieces on display Jennifer further  comments, “My tastes combine a few motifs and design elements from the Art Nouveau movement and Greek pottery.  Other more mathematical works in this display pay homage to MC Escher and the current visionary art movement”.   The exhibit can be viewed during Library hours till the end of October.

Archana, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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