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Modern-day art from age-old craft

Pysanky, a centuries old craft using eggs for Easter, is second nature to a woman who creates the pieces all occasions.

By MICHELLE JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 24, 2000


WESLEY CHAPEL -- More than a thousand years ago the Ukrainian people created a craft that lives on today.

And, even though Katie Newton isn't Ukrainian she paints eggs, creating the beautiful art called pysanky.

However, Newton adds a twist of her own to the age-old craft. She not only makes the eggs for Easter, she also designs the colorful eggs for any occasion, from baby's first Christmas to a happy anniversary egg.

The 34-year-old Wesley Chapel resident has been doing the craft for five years.

She said she learned the art from her best friend, Bohdonna Blay, of Tampa, who is Ukrainian.

"She taught me everything I know," said Newton.

Blay taught a class at St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Northdale, where the two attend church, and Newton has been decorating eggs ever since. Traditionally, the eggs were made during the last week of Lent and taken to the church to be blessed by the priest on Easter. Then they were given away with the design created to match the character of the person who received each egg. The Ukrainian word pysanky means to write and the eggs are a symbolic gift of life.

Creating the design is similar to batik with patterns drawn on the egg with wax, which protects the covered areas from each dye as it is applied. By repeating the process with different colors, a pattern is built up. When the egg is completed the wax is removed to reveal the colors and design.

At first, Newton created the eggs for gifts for family and friends.

Then she began to take orders and began selling them to people. She takes orders for different occasions and sells them at craft fairs, including the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce's recent arts and crafts fair and the upcoming Summerfield Towne Hall in Summerfield Crossings in Riverview from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 2.

A chicken-size egg normally costs $20, larger eggs are more.

There are two types of Ukrainian Easter eggs: hard-boiled eggs which are dyed a solid color and the pysanky, a raw egg that has had the yolk and white removed and then painted with the colorful designs.

Newton says she drills a small hole in the egg and then forces air into the egg using a syringe.

"The air going in forces the egg to come out," she said.

Then she rinses the inside and outside with a vinegar and water solution to eliminate any residue.

The eggs are then ready for the design.

Colors as well as the designs have meanings.

White means purity and red denotes happiness in life, hope and love. Pink means success and purple signifies trust and faith. Black stands for eternity, while light green means new growth.

Some of the symbols and meanings include the diamond for knowledge, circle for good fortune and ladders for prayer.

Many of the colors and symbols predate the arrival of Christianity, such as the sun and stars and ribbons symbolizing water. Orange means strength and endurance like the sun, and blue represents the sky with its life-giving air.

Using an electric stylus, called a kistka, Newton carefully applies the wax. The wax is melted in a tiny potpourri pot or candles can be used to melt the wax.

Newton teaches classes in the art to individuals or groups.

Her favorite egg contains several symbols.

"The triangle for the Trinity and nets symbolize Jesus fishing for men," she said. "This is another way to evangelize, because people come to the fairs and ask questions. It is a good way to talk about my faith."

One of the eggs she is working on is a goose egg which, when complete, will be given to a recently ordained Ukrainian priest.

"By the time I'm finished, I will have worked for 100 hours on this egg," she said.

Newton, her husband John and two boys Eric, 8, and Nicholas, 6, hope her eggs will help them as they travel across the United States in a few months.

"We have sold our house and after the new baby comes we will be traveling in our RV for two years," she said. "I will be making an egg for the new boy for Christmas as I did for the other two boys. If the sonogram is correct I will put the name Joshua Lawrence on the egg."

She says she will paint eggs and sell them at fairs across the United States.

By remaining debt free and home schooling the children, the Newtons will have a chance to fulfill their dream of traveling, which they have had for a while.

"We don't know where we will settle when the two years are over," she said.

But, wherever it is, she'll have eggs to sell.

-- Michelle Jones covers central Pasco community news. She can be reached at (813) 226-3459. Her e-mail address is jones@sptimes.com.

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