Ukrainian Easter egg


What is a pysanka?

Simply put, it is an Easter egg decorated using a wax resist (aka batik) method. Its name derives from the Ukrainian verb “pysaty,” meaning “to write.”  (“Pysanka” is the singular form; “pysanky” is plural.)

But it is much more than that.  Ukrainians have been decorating eggs, creating these miniature jewels, for countless generations. There is a ritualistic element involved, magical thinking, a calling out to the gods and goddesses for health, fertility, love, and wealth.  There is a yearning for eternity, for the sun and stars, for whatever gods that may be.  

The design motifs on pysanky date back to pre-Christian times–many date to early Slavic cultures, while some harken to the days of the Trypillians, my neolithic ancestors, and others to Paleolithic times.  While the symbols have remained through the ages, their interpretation has changed, in an act of religious syncretism. A triangle that once spoke of the three elements, earth, fire and air, now celebrates the Christian Holy Trinity.  The cross which depicted the rising sun is now the symbol of the risen Christ.  Sun and star symbols once referred to Dazhboh, the sun god, and now refer to the one Christian God.  And the fish, which spoke of a plentiful catch and a full stomach, now stands in for Christ, the fisher of men. Even so, under this Christian veneer, there still lurk the berehynia and the serpent, the sun and the moon, the old gods, the old ways, and the old beliefs. 

A note on pronunciation–despite what you may have heard on the Food Network or in a local class, “Pysanka” is pronounced “PIH-sahn-kah”  (with the plural “pih-sahn-KIH”), with all short vowels.  The term “pysanky” is not, never was, nor will it ever be correctly pronounced “pie-SAN-kee”!!!!

Why pysanky?

I have had a life long interest in and fascination with pysanky which began when, as a small child, I admired several pysanky in my mother’s china cabinet.  They had been a gift from a friend fo hers.  I wrote my first pysanka in Ukrainian school, when I was 7 years old, and became hooked. I have been learning about them and writing them ever since. As I have gotten more technically proficient, I have sold them (long ago, while in college and medical school) and still donate them occasionally to charity sales and auctions.  Mostly, I give them away, as gifts, to friends and family, as is our Ukrainian tradition.  I have taught (and still teach) classes about writing pysanky (pysankarstvo / писанкарство), including teaching every spring at the very same Ukrainian school where I first learned pysankarstvo. 

I have shared my love of pysanky with friends world-wide, and have taught the art to friends and family in this country, hundreds of orphans in Ukraine, and to friends in India and Australia (so far...)

In recent years, I have begun to learn more about the traditional aspects of my art, and have become more and more entranced by traditional designs and ethnographic patterns.  You can see some examples of these pysanky here, and read more about them here and here.  And in 2013 I contributed some 700 of my traditional pysanky to an exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum.

This web site is the product of more than fifty years' experience with pysankarstvo. I have studied the work of others, and built up a library of books and images. I have written many handouts, in English and Ukrainian, about pysanky. And I even posted an article to Wikipedia.

In 2004 I decided to begin documenting my art, and have begun photographing all of the pysanky in my possession, and the collections of my friends and family. I’ve also photographed collections of pysanky in Ukraine, both private collections and those in museums.  It is an ongoing project which has consumed much time and bandwidth. I have learned a lot in the process.

My Website

I began my website several years ago with a few simple photos, and have been adding to it on a regular basis ever since.  As my web skills (and software) improved, I began adding lots of text and diagrams. I have migrated all of my old (pysanka) content and begun adding new content at this current website. It is now easily the largest and most extensive pysanka site on the web (400+ pages at last count).

To find a detailed listing of the contents of my site, or to find a specific page that may have moved since you viewed it last, check out the IndexYou can also find a rough breakdown of the organization of the site below; the links will take to various “main” pages.

I’ve also created a custom Google search engine to find results within this site; click on the link below to use it.

Search my site with Google

My website is large, with hundreds of pages and sub-sites; these pages can be roughly divided into three groups: pages ABOUT pysanky and pysankarstvo, PHOTOS of pysanky and other decorated eggs, and pages about Ukrainian EASTER.  A rough outline is provided below.  A better outline is provided in my Index

ABOUT Pysanky:

History and Legends: pysanky, their ancient origins, and the stories told about them

Traditions:  Folkways involved in the making and giving of pysanky.  I’ve begun adding my translation of sections of Oleksa Voropay’s book.

Types of Decorated Ukrainian Eggs: Krashanky, Driapanky and more

Symbols: the symbols/motifs found on pysanky

Ukrainian Regions: A bit about Ukrainian ethnography and regional pysanky, as well as the Ukrainian alphabet and transliteration to English.

Pysankarstvo / Писанкарство: this section has just about everything you need to know about writing pysanky (or will eventually). I discuss technical aspects of writing pysanky, including:    

            basic step-by-step directions

            Basic and additional supplies

            more advanced and detailed instructions

            chemistry of pysankarstvo

            basic traditional divisions of the pysanka

            how to create some of the traditional motifs

There is also a downloads section, with handouts that I have created over the years, instruction sheets, a large number of step-by-step patterns (including many traditional regional ones), children’s handouts and even a few Ukrainian-language powerpoint presentations. This section is constantly being expanded and improved, so it is worth checking once in a while.

Pysanka Classes: photos of people writing pysanky and the pysanky they have written.  I’ve taught pysankarstvo on four continents now, and have taken pictures of many of my students at work and the pysanky they’ve written.

Teaching Pysankarstvo: Help for pysankary who teach or would like to teach pysanka classes.

Books:  there have been many books published on the subject of pysanky, and I have accumulated a lot of them over the years.  I am creating an annotated bibliography with my reviews(sometimes) and sources for the books, if known.

Museums:  lists and descriptions of museums with pysanka collections, including the Museum of the Pysanka in Kolomyia. UNDER CONSTRUCTION

ABOUT Folk Pysanky:

Traditional Ukrainian Folk Pysanky: This is my ever-expanding collection of photos and other illustrations of traditional Ukrainian folk pysanky.  It includes my own recreations of folk pysanky, as well as scans of illustrations of folk pysanky, and my photos of folk pysanky in museum and private collections.

The pysanky are grouped by ethnographic regions. I’ve included information on the ethnographic regions represented, and some maps. There are also sections on drop-pull pysanky, and on the Sorokoklyn (40 triangle) pysanka, a pattern that is found throughout Ukraine. 

For teachers and fellow pysanka-makers, I have included many downloadable .pdf files of step-by-step traditional pysanka patterns here, as well as other educational materials (handouts and slideshows).

I’ve scanned and uploaded much of the work of Erast Binyashevsky, both his original book and a later folio edition, and have additional unpublished material. You can also find scanned pages from the works of Kylzhynsky, Shcherbakivsky,  Korduba, Pchilka and others.

PHOTOS of Modern Pysanky (and other decorated eggs):  

My Modern Pysanky: On these pages you will find photos of pysanky that I myself have have created. Some are diasporan patterns, others could best be described as “art eggs” or “novelty eggs.” I have photographed all of my old ones, and photograph the news ones, in batches, as they are created.  Each year I post the “annual Easter collection” and a group photo (poster) of that year’s new designs (some mine, many copied from or inspired by other sources).  I’ve also  begun re-creating many traditional designs from various sources, and posting them by region (see next section). My modern (non-folk) pysanky are sorted into these sections:

                    Old Pysanky (pre-2003)                                  

                    New Pysanky (including brown eggs)

                    Nontraditional Pysanky

                    Snowflake Pysanky

                    Annual Collections

                    Posters, Baskets and Bowls

Pysanky from Ukraine:  Photos of modern pysanky that I have collected during my travels in Ukraine.  They include traditional, Hutsul, and Trypillian styles, as well as some that are pure flights of fancy by the pysankarka.

Pysanka Galleries: Photos of pysanky made by my relatives and friends, as well as photos of  pysanka collections belonging to my friends and relatives.  Some of the eggs in these collections were made by me (particularly those belonging to my mother and sister-in-law).

Variations on the Pysanka:  I have lots of photos of decorated eggs which are not pysanky. I’ve collected these in my travels, many in Ukraine, but others from countries as disparate as Ecuador and Ethiopia (and a few from Pier One).  Decorating eggs seems to be a worldwide activity.


About Ukrainian EASTER:

Ukrainian Easter: an essay (with photos) about Ukrainian Easter customs and traditions. I hope to expand this eventually, based on my translations of the Ukrainian folk tradition literature.

Ukrainian Easter Cards: I’ve collected many cards over the years, most of which have depictions of pysanky on them. They are interesting both for the folk background they provide, and as a source of design ideas. 

Pysanka Post Cards:  Ukrainian post cards with pysanky on them.  These were generally not, with the exception of the vintage cards, Easter greeting cards, simply post cards of attractively decorated eggs.

.......And I have lots of other materials of interest to the pysanka maker.  These, too, will slowly be added to the site, as I digitize them, so keep checking!

I hope you enjoy my site.  Drop me a note if you get a chance!

Be advised that the content on these pages is my work, except where noted.  The text, photos and illustrations have been put here to share; if you wish to print them out for personal use, or for teaching purposes, please feel free to do so.  If you wish to reproduce them on your website, or in another publication, please ask first. You can contact me via the e-mail link below.


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Back to MAIN home page of this site.

Pysanka Index.