- Associated Press - Saturday, April 15, 2017

NEWTON, N.J. (AP) - If you break an egg, do you make an omelette, or, like Kelly Evans, would you frame it?

“Two reasons,” Evans said as he displayed the framed eggshell in his cupped hands. “I liked the design and, two, yeah, the other side was broken.”

What Evans held was an example of pysanky, or the art of Ukrainian Easter eggs, which itself is something of a misnomer. The tradition of decorating eggs dates back more than 2,000 years.

“It began with the pagans,” said Evans, who wrote a book on the history of pysanky, which was published in March.

The book was begun in 2002, but wasn’t completed until this past year.



“The impetus was in his memory,” he told the New Jersey Herald (https://bit.ly/2oIdVi4 ), referring to his father, Ralph Evans, who died in 2015. Ralph and his wife, Sylvia, were professional figure skaters before they retired and opened a chain of skating schools in New Jersey.

It was Evans‘ mother, Sylvia, who instilled in him the interest in making the decorated eggs. She was Ukrainian, and every spring, out would come the beeswax and dyes and bowls of eggs.

“In pagan times, decorating eggs was a celebration of spring,” Evans said. “The egg represented life, the yolk represents the sun.”

Traditionally, the eggs were decorated and put on display. The egg white would naturally evaporate - eggshells are porous - and the yolk would harden into a ball.

“You could hear it rattle around inside,” he recalled.

Today, however, the eggs are blown out, either before the decorating process begins or just before the final coats of polyurethane are applied, which effectively seals the shells.

“I like the heavier feel of a full egg while I’m working on it,” Evans said. “Some people will blow the egg out first.

He noted that in earlier times, the eggshells were thicker and coarser since most were from backyard chickens.

Although of Ukrainian ancestry, Evans said his grandparents came to this country from Poland, but retained the Easter egg tradition.

“I’ve been doing this since I was a kid; I think it was 1989,” he said of his first experiments.

His mother taught the children - there were five - the way she learned, the “drop-and-pull” technique, where a stylus is dipped in hot wax and touched to the egg. The drop of wax is then pulled, forming the basic shape of a tear-drop.

The manner and speed in which the wax is pulled across the shell determine how the design proceeds.

Beeswax is traditional and still works the best.

Beside Evans‘ workbench is a push cart loaded with canning jars, neatly labeled by color, of the commercially available, water-soluble dyes.

Traditionally, egg decorators made their own dyes using natural materials, such as onion skin for yellow, usually the first color put down.

Sometimes the process begins with the plain white shell and sometimes a light color.

“We work from the lightest color (of dye), finishing with the darkest color,” he said.

Instead of a stylus from the drop-and-pull method, Evans now uses a “kistka,” an egg decorator’s version of a fountain pen.

The instrument looks like a miniature pipe, with a small cup at the working end of the instrument. The cup holds a supply of molten wax and as long as the wax remains liquid - which isn’t all that long - the artist can lay down a wax trail.

And this is where the design plan comes in. In the Ukrainian tradition, there are lots of symbols with lots of meanings. A deer, common to decorated eggs, is a sign of good health and long life.

Part of the tradition of decorated eggs was also a way for illiterate people to send messages by use of those symbols on the egg.

Some people still use the term “writing the egg” when talking about their designs.

Evans uses the term “making an egg,” a phrase meant to confer the creation of a work of art.

Through experience and experiments, Evans can do a full egg - layer upon layer of dye, with wax protecting the previous layers from being dyed by the new color - in about three hours.

A graphic artist who owns Signs Etc., in Sparta Township, N.J., Evans designed his own sketch pads for working out ideas, two egg-shaped drawings.

He is also adept at “erasing” small mistakes with judicious use of cleaning fluid to dissolve a wax dribble.

Once the final dye coat is applied and dried sufficiently, Evans lights a candle.

This is where the combination of beeswax “drawings” between the layers of dye becomes art.

Holding the egg to the side of the flame - too much heat destroys the work - and working a small space at a time, Evans wipes off the melting wax.

The colored designs magically appear. Before long, the flame/wipe process has revealed the artist’s vision.

A quick coat of high-gloss polyurethane and Evans is ready to remove the yolk and white.

The hole in the end of the shell makes for a convenient place to hold the shell on a drying spindle as a half-dozen more coats of polyurethane are added over the course of a week.

Crammed into his Lake Mohawk home are hundreds of decorated eggs, most of the chicken variety, but there is an ostrich egg on one sideboard, a quail egg hidden among those in a corner cabinet and even turkey eggs.

Evans readily admits he has kept most of his work, and other than when he was in his teens and studying at the University of Vermont - he has a bachelor’s in studio art - he has been “making eggs.”

“I also like the creative way people have come up with to display them,” he said, pointing to ceramic shapes, wooden racks and pedestals.

“I saw this in a book where someone did half an egg,” he said, explaining the framed half-shell. “I just used a Dremel to cut it in two and glued one half on.”

In his childhood home, the egg decorating began at the start of Lent and was an after-dinner event.

In the Ukrainian culture, egg-decorating was handed down from mother to daughter. It was never a commercial operation, and usually was limited to the springtime or special occasions such as marriage or childbirth.

He said the creativity in him likes the art, rather than the tradition of making eggs, and he doesn’t sell them. It is also a year-round avocation for him.

“After dinner, I’ll come down here (workshop) and work. It’s meditation time,” he said. “I find it very hard to part with one. It’s like giving up a kitten.”

Several books are available on pysanky; however, Evans takes a different path with his book.

While there are plenty of pictures and pages of the symbols of the art, almost all the eggs are those he has made - with some pictures of the work of his sister, Tracy Criscitiello.

“I told her I wanted pictures of what a novice looks like,” he said of the photos from the early 2000s. “Now, she’s anything but a novice.”

What sets his book apart from other collectors’ reference works are his step-by-step illustrations on how to “make an egg.”

As he flips through the pages of the book, titled “Making Pysanky: My Journey,” he pauses to show how someone can learn, just as he did. The book also branches off to show types of display racks and even includes a “fun section,” adapting the wax-and-dye technique to make Halloween egg trees.

As to the origins of the Ukrainian folk tale, he said the ancient belief was that the more eggs decorated each spring, the safer the earth would be from the “monster.”

While unnamed, that monster was held in check by the power of the eggs, he said.

“I’m just looking to give back what I’ve learned,” he said of his art, adding with a laugh, “Really, it’s for the fate of the world.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2oIdVi4

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Information from: The New Jersey Herald (Newton, N.J.), https://www.njherald.com

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