The old Technique Behind a Colourful Tradition

Kayla Craig – Marketing and Communications Intern

Eggs have been associated with superstitions, pagan rituals, and delicious breakfast meals. As we draw closer to Easter the plain white and brown eggs to which we have become accustomed too transform into beautiful displays of colourful expression. The practice of decorating eggs can be traced back to pre-dynastic Egypt and the early cultures of Mesopotamia.

In the Ukraine this art form has been a tradition for over ten centuries. A pysanka is a Ukrainian Easter egg, earning its name from the Ukraine verb pysaty meaning “to write.” Eggs are decorated using the wax resist technique. Designs are written in beeswax forming a layer of resistance against the colourful dyes. This technique wasn’t always used on eggs historically it has been used on pottery and textiles.

Much like snowflakes, no two Pysanky look alike. The tradition was passed from mother to daughter for generations, a great deal of care going into learning about the symbolism and cultural significance of each colour and motif. The dyes we buy to colour our eggs today are chemically produced. Historically dyes were constructed from roots, berries, bark, and dried plants. The colour yellow was achieved by mixing onion skins with apple tree bark or mistletoe leaves, while red was a mixture of brazil wood, beets, and logwood. Red was the dominating colour in the Pysanka tradition standing for love and happiness.

The Galt Archives has an excellent photo taken on March 18 1970 of a basket of Ukrainian Easter eggs. The finely detailed eggs were donated by Mrs. Mary Romaniuk of Lethbridge as part of a display in what was known as the Ukrainian Room at the Galt Museum. The room was furnished with objects donated by the Ukainian Association.

To learn more about this fascinating history join the Galt Museum & Archives from 2–4 pm on Sunday March 26 and learn how to make Ukrainian Easter eggs with our hands-on workshop.
Admission fees apply | registration not required.

Your old photos, documents, and artifacts might have historical value. Please contact Galt Museum & Archives for advice before destroying them.