“Ukraine is headlining the news with the unthinkable happening. This exhibit is poignant and timely in manifesting solidarity with an independent nation; one with its own beautiful culture, language and traditions. I am honored to share this ancient art form that connects me to my roots, the homeland of my ancestors.” – Ukrainian-American artist Lesia Sochor
In support of the Ukrainian people, The Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Mass., has reinstalled Maine-based contemporary artist Lesia Sochor’s Pysanka: Symbol of Renewalan exhibition inspired by the beautiful tradition of intricately decorated Ukrainian Easter egg painting, March 10 – July 31, 2022. Three new works created in response to the current crisis in Ukraine are featured in the exhibition.
Sochor’s paintings are narratives told in paint that are prompted by personal experiences. The Pysanka series evolved from Sochor’s annual spring ritual of creating Ukrainian Easter eggs called Pysanky. Depicting the symbolic meanings and traditional motifs of this talismanic object in oils and watercolors spawned a new path of contemporary expression for this ancient art form. Sochor creates a direct link to her ancestral roots by continuing the tradition of Pysanky making passed down by her Ukrainian immigrant mother.
Decorated with traditional folk designs using a wax-resist method, Pysanky are miniature jewels that Ukrainians have been creating for countless generations. The word pysanka comes from the Ukrainian verb pysaty, meaning “to write” or “to “inscribe,” as the designs are not painted on, but written (inscribed) with beeswax.
The egg, as the embodiment of the life force, has been associated with mythical and religious ceremonies from the earliest pagan times. Ancient people universally worshiped the sun, with eggs as ritual objects for these celebrations; the yolks representing the sun, the whites the moon.
Through time, the Pysanka, a decorated egg, became deeply important in spring rituals symbolizing nature’s rebirth. It was common among all Slavic peoples, and various forms of the Pysanka were prevalent as far back as 5,000 years before Christ. The geographical location of Ukraine made it less accessible to new cultural influences, so the development of the design was able to flourish and grow.
With the coming of Christianity, much of the symbolism of nature’s rebirth became equated with Christ’s resurrection. It, therefore, became incorporated into Easter celebrations of the new religion. Today, during the holidays, there are Pysanky in every Ukrainian home. They are taken to church, blessed, and given as gifts to family and friends.
The technique used is a wax resist process. The designs are drawn on the egg with melted beeswax which flows from a tool called a Kystka. After being dipped in a series of dyes, the wax is removed, and the final pattern is revealed. Each egg involves a trinity of symbols: the egg itself, the design, and the color. This spring tradition is passed down from one generation to the next as it has been to me by my Ukrainian mother. I now continue the custom with my family.
Being first and foremost a painter, the annual ritual of Pysanka making was the conduit for a decade long exploration of paintings in the 1990s, Sochor explains. Depicting this age-old art form, so rich in symbolism and lore, spawned a new path of expression. The traditional meanings and motifs of this sacred, talismanic object provoked new interpretations integrating ancient narratives with contemporary content and imagery, using both oils and watercolors.