Making the pysanky with a kistka and melted beeswax (photo credit: Casondra Sobieralski)
As the war continues in Ukraine, many organizations in the Bay have focused into putting all efforts into providing humanitarian help they can in any way how. For one group of thirty women in Berkeley, they are creating art, but utilizing a distinctly unique and traditionally Ukrainian canvas- the humble egg.
This traditional Ukrainian method of egg decorating is known as "Pysanky," and is what the aptly named “Peaceanky” fundraiser group have been meticulously creating and then auctioning to accrue proceeds for the art's country of origin.
Pysanky displayed in the storefront in Elmwood, at 2946 College Avenue (photo credit: Burl Willes)
With the eggs are all locally sourced from Bay Area backyard chickens, geese, and ducks, these noble blank canvasses are then laboriously embellished with intricate filigree by hand using wax, similar to Easter egg dyeing activities. The finished "Pysansky" are then ready to be displayed and silent auctioned through eBay until April 3rd. The masterpieces currently reside at a Berkeley storefront window at 2946 College Avenue in the heart of the Elmwood district.
These ornate eggs shall remain available for purchase until Sunday, April 3rd, accompanied in the pop up window by other handmade antique textiles and art until April 10th. A notable addition in the window is an original Pysanky painting by local artist Adrian Arias. All proceeds are to fully be donated to Nova Ukraine, a non-profit that provides aid to refugees and other Ukrainians being affected by the war.
Pysanky workshop (photo credit: Marcie Gutierrez)
"Peaceanky" began as an annual pysanky-making gathering by Oakland architect Marcie Gutierrez at her home. Having hosted this yearly traditional for over a decade now, it has since shifted to becoming a fundraiser for her childrens' school, and now as a community humanitarian effort. Gutierrez’s longtime friends Michelle Hlubinka and Casondra Sobieralski unanimously suggested the idea to her, emphasizing the need for solidarity and culural education through the creative and labor-intensive medium.
“The fragility of these laboriously crafted eggs provides an apt metaphor for this political moment, when Russia’s egregious acts against a sovereign neighbor have jeopardized everyone’s sense of peace, security, and freedom,” says Hlubinka, who is a Czech raised in the United States. Having worked with Berkeley city officials and the Elmwood Business Association, she was able to secure the storefront for these pieces that she and eight other local women handmade.
Erin Coyne is another artist from Albany who has immediate family in Kyiv. After serving in the Peace Corps in Russia alongside Gutierrez, Coyne worked for Ukrainian non-profits for years, leading to her assistance in creating pysanky with Gutierrez from her gathering's first inception.
Others who lended a big hand in the operation incude hen keeper Kristen Policy who created the shop display and website for the auction, and Elaine Dykman, who learned “pysankarstvo,” or pysanky-making from her a second-generation Ukrainian mother. The artistry of Dykman's mother elicited fond memories for her as she would meet with the group to uphold the folk tradition.
Mostly everyone else who assisted the project were new to it, but picked it up quickly due to their dedication to providing support.
A bowl of the finished pysanky (photo credit: Kristen Policy)
To craft a singular pysanka (Ukrainian: писанка, plural: писанки) takes hours of steady and maintained attention. After the eggs are hollowed and drained through a very small hole, artists will then alternate layers of beeswax and dye while creating or "writing" extremely detailed and ornate designs. The “pys” root translates as "to write or inscribe," and artists must be truly patient and gentle as to not shatter the shell. This practice was traditionally done at night by candlelight, adding more metaphoric lore to its existence.
The Ukrainian legend notes that the more pysanky are created, the less evil emerges on earth. This year, the multitude of pysanky made aims to diminish the turmoil felt across the world.
This year among Ukrainian communities, April 1st is now declared "Pysanky for Ukraine Day."
A carton of the finished pysanky (photo credit: Kristen Policy)
Information on the non-edible pysanky's process, contributing artists, availability, and price are all found on their main website. This site has links to eBay where the art will be silently auctioned until April 3rd, while the display continues until April 10th.
Photography by: Courtesy of Unsplash