Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg before it is broken.
― M.F.K. Fisher
Consider the egg. The architecture: thin layers of calcium and hydrogen carbonate, with palisade columns that allow the egg to ‘breathe.’ The exquisite mathematics of the curve: spherical, oval, elliptical. The surface: toothy-smooth, shiny, rough, pitted or chalky. Spotted, blotched, uniform. Colors that reflect the sky, the sea, the earth.
To hold the egg in your hand is to experience nature’s true genius. That life can grow safely inside such a fragile structure — protected from the insult of microbes and the assault of the elements, contained, evolving, out of sight, basically secret — is nothing short of astonishing.
There is no door in an egg. You can’t get invited in. You can only crash in. Or out.
For me, hens’ (and ducks’!) eggs are spring’s canvas. They invite decoration, the application of color — dyes, paint, glitter, decoupage. The finite size, limited area, the curved surface somehow make it irresistible.
I’ve always been fascinated by the intricate designs of Ukrainian Easter eggs, called pysanka. Long ago, before recorded time, it turns out, someone figured out how to use geometry in the most marvelous way. The layers of dye force you to think backwards, or inside out, maybe. Each dip into the dye is riskier than the last. The trick is in knowing when to stop. Plus, you are intently making an intricate design on something that could, with one false move, shatter. (Which, if it happens, can teach you all sorts of things about about letting go. Very Zen.)
Stealing directly from Wikipedia here: “A pysanka is a Ukrainian Easter egg, decorated using a wax-resist method. Many other eastern European ethnic groups decorate eggs using wax resistant methods for Easter. The word comes from the verb pysaty, ‘to write,’ as the designs are not painted on, but written with beeswax.
“Pysanky are typically made to be given to family members and respected outsiders. To give a pysanka is to give a symbolic gift of life, which is why the egg must remain whole. Furthermore, each of the designs and colors on the pysanka is likely to have a deep, symbolic meaning. Traditionally, the designs are chosen to match the character of the person to whom the pysanka is to be given.
At one time, in a large family, by Maundy Thursday 60 or more eggs would have been completed by the women of the house. (The more daughters a family had, the more pysanky would be produced.) The eggs would then be taken to the church on Easter Sunday to be blessed, after which they were given away. Here is a partial list of how the pysanky would be used:
- One or two would be given to the priest.
- Three or four were taken to the cemetery and placed on graves of the family.
- Ten or fifteen were given to children or godchildren.
- Ten or twelve were exchanged by the unmarried girls with the eligible men in the community.
- Several were saved to place in the coffin of loved ones who might die during the year.
- Several were saved to keep in the home for protection from fire, lightning and storms.
- Two or three were placed in the mangers of cows and horses to ensure safe calving and colting and a good milk supply for the young.
- At least one egg was placed beneath the bee hive to insure a good harvest of honey.
- One was saved for each grazing animal to be taken out to the fields with the shepherds in the spring.
- Several pysanky were placed in the nests of hens to encourage the laying of eggs.”
This week, Kith & Kin Studio is offering studio time for anyone who wants to play with pysanka or other kinds of egg decorating. We’ll have all the materials you need to make beautiful Easter eggs. The charge is $40 per person for two hours. Kids over 8 years old are welcome. I can take 6–8 people at a time and the schedule is flexible. I can’t promise that you’ll go home with 60 eggs each, but you will go home with something utterly unique and beautiful. And you’ll have fun making it. Send me an email or leave a comment for more details.