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Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff Anastasia Kostyk demonstrates the art of Pysanky Wednesday at the Amsterdam Free Library.

Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff Olya Szyjka, left, speaks on the history of the art of Pysanky as Anastasia Kostyk demonstrates.

Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff Olya Szyjka, left, instructs Anastasia Kostyk on the art of pysanky.


Eggs-quisite tradition: Workshop focuses on Ukrainian art of pysanky

Saturday, February 23, 2013 - Updated: 5:09 PM


Recorder News Staff

Sitting in the Amsterdam Free Library, Anastasia Kostyk sat creating a small piece of art, as Olya Szyjka coached her.

With a small stylus, Kostyk scraped the hard wax of a candle into a tiny brass funnel and held it over the flame of another candle.

In her other hand she held a small chicken egg.

As the wax melted, she drew lines with it on the egg creating sectioned out patterns, the start of her design.

Szyjka was coaching her on the creation of pysanky, an age-old art of the Ukraine that creates colorful and intricately-designed Easter eggs of all kinds, from chicken eggs to ostrich eggs.

"It takes a long time to master the art," Szyjka said. "You need a steady hand and a lot of practice."

Szyjka, whose parents came to Amsterdam from Ukraine, began learning about the art when she was just 4 years old.

Domna Swidersky was her teacher then, said Myron Swidersky, Domna's husband, and she taught how to create pysanky to the young Ukrainian children.

"Only about three or four of them could master it," he recalled. "You have to have patience and also some artistic inclination. Otherwise, it's too much."

Szyjka recalled the myths her parents used to tell about pysanky and added that they are also symbols of good luck.

She still has the first egg she created.

The oldest style of pysanky that developed was the Trypillian style, Myron Swidersky said.

The decorated pysanky were important parts of spring rituals in Ukrainian cultures, Swidersky explained, and the artwork found on the eggs could be found on pottery that is thousands of years old.

Szyjka explained that since then the art has transformed.

"These would have been natural dies, like onion skin and things found in nature," Szyjka said of the art. "It's only recently that they use chemical dies."

The patterns that are drawn using the stylus have evolved over the years, as well, now containing Christian symbols and other patterns, Swidersky said.

And, Szyjka added, the stylus has been changed.

"It used to be a funnel wrapped with covered wire on a stick; now it's much more modern," she said. "Some people even use electric ones."

A tiny egg with an uncomplicated design could take as little as a few hours, but for large eggs -- like the intricate ostrich egg that Domna created for the city's centennial and is now housed in City Hall -- it can take days, weeks even.

"You really have to think before you start an egg like that," Szyjka said. "You really have to prepare yourself before starting an ostrich egg. If you make a mistake, you're not going to toss that, so you really have to think what you're doing.

"I'm just in awe at these eggs."

The art of creating pysanky is "beautiful," Szyjka said, and it has been done in Amsterdam since the Ukrainians immigrated here.

On March 2 at the Amsterdam Free Library, other members of the community will have the opportunity to learn the craft at a pysanky workshop.

The workshop will begin with two short films on the art of creating pysanky, followed by a break for lunch, and then a 2 1/2 hour workshop.

"We will start on the white chicken egg. Everyone will use the traditional stylus and a candle. We'll follow a pattern to make a traditional Easter egg from start to finish," Szyjka said.

A $15 registration fee gets the attendants a kit of pysanky tools and a space at the table.

And though the workshop is already filled, Swidersky said, anyone in the community is welcome to attend to watch the videos, share in lunch, and spectate as others try their hand at the art.

They can also give their information to the library, as Swidersky said there will be other pysanky workshops happening in the community in coming weeks.

Nicole Hemsley, library director, said that holding the workshop at the library is another step in this year's library focus on getting to know the cultures of the Amsterdam community.

"I think it's showing people that we're more than just books," she said. "We want people to feel comfortable expressing themselves here, showing part of their culture."

Kostyk said she's only created a handful of pysanky in her lifetime, but it's a fun and intricate art and a way to learn about her heritage.

"It's cool because everybody is really intrigued by it and thinks it's the coolest thing in the world," she said. "It's kind of nice to be apart of that and to know how to do it."


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