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Easter Art

Guild practices ancient process of creating Ukranian eggs

Annette Allen, of Morris, a member of the Morris Watercolor Guild, uses a candle to melt the black wax off of her Ukranian style Easter egg.
Annette Allen, of Morris, a member of the Morris Watercolor Guild, uses a candle to melt the black wax off of her Ukranian style Easter egg.

Members and friends of the Morris Watercolor Guild gathered this month to create art of a whole different genre from watercolor. They learned the ancient technique of making pysanka, or Ukrainian Easter eggs.

The eggs are made from real chicken eggs, brought in from the grocery store the morning of the guild’s workshop, and drilled and hollowed out first thing. Handling the eggs and “painting” on them with hot wax was not the easiest thing, members said.

First of all, the eggshells were obviously quite fragile, and there were more than a few that got broken in the many steps of the process. Guild members found other difficulties, as well.

“The hardest part is when you are drawing and hit a bump on the eggshell,” Sherry Miller said. “I’m loving it, though. You’re using both sides of your brain.”

Miller said she has painted eggs before, but the workshop was the first time she used the wax-resist method of Ukrainian Easter egg art.

The workshop was led by Tom Manley, retired Joliet Central High School art teacher, who said he taught himself the technique years ago for his high school classes. There is deep religious meaning behind the eggs, he explained. They are symbols of the resurrection of Jesus, so are perfect for the Easter season. Europeans make them and give them as gifts to friends and family.

Manley gets his aniline dyes from a specialty store in Minneapolis. They come in a powder that he brings to life with water and vinegar. After the eggs are emptied by blowing their contents out of holes drilled in either end, they are weighted down in pickle jars of the dye. The process usually begins with a light color.

Manley taught his guild students how to melt black beeswax and apply it onto the eggs with a hollow stylus, or a kistka. The method is a wax-resist, where the wax is drawn onto areas where the artist wants the original color to stay. Then the egg can be stained with another darker dye.

The process of drawing with the wax, alternating with dyes, is continued until the artist’s design is complete, at which point the egg is usually almost completely covered with layer upon layer of black wax.

The students then burned the wax off with a candle flame. The process was not an easy one to conceptualize for those not used to thinking in an inverse way of color.

“You kind of have to do it backwards,” Manley said. “When you’re done, the whole thing is covered in black wax, which you burn off. It’s like Christ casting off his body. You take all the wax off, then all the beautiful colors show.”

Debi Robinson, of Minooka, fashioned her own design after first looking at examples of patterns Manley brought in. The colors she used in order were yellow, orange, then blue.

Most of the guild members began with yellow, and most worked with two eggs at a time, alternating working on each.

“This is something totally different from what we normally do,” said Marge Hiney, of Morris. “It’s a historical folk art.”

“We enjoy doing different things here,” Annette Allen, of Morris, said of the watercolor guild. “The history of this is very interesting.”

“It was fun,” Lockport resident Linda Hilmes said. Hilmes was a visitor to the guild, brought by her friend Barbara Kelly, of Minooka.

“I think the challenge was thinking light to dark,” Kelly said. “It was hard thinking like that. With each of the steps, you make each color darker. It’s a challenge. . . It was a very interesting process to see the wax come off and the design underneath.”

The Morris Watercolor Guild meets for open painting sessions once a week on most Friday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church on Liberty Street in Morris.

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