Pysanka Easter Egg Museum in Kolomyia, Ukraine

Decorating eggs is an ancient tradition, still alive in many countries, from Iran to Greece, but in Ukraine it becomes an art form–and a national obsession. Pysanka, as the decorated egg is called, from the word “pysaty”, “to write,” is  one of the most important traditional arts in Ukraine. Today pysanka (plural is pysanky) is prepared around Easter, although decorated eggs were also used to be given as birthday gifts and wedding presents. Each region has its own set of symbols, colors and patterns, while each master adds their own signature touch.

It’s not surprising then that Ukraine should have a museum dedicated to the pysanky. The Pysanka Museum in the western Ukrainian city of Kolomyia is one of the most fascinating museums I’ve visited. The museum was a labor of love of the local community that collected the best examples of its pysanka masters and preserved them in the Kolomyia church of the Annunciation. In 2000, the museum was formally opened, allowing for preservation of the fragile masterpieces, as well as for hosting workshops and lectures. Walking through its halls filled with more than 1000 pysanky is a mind-blowing experience. It’s hard to believe that such intricate designs are made by human hands.

In order to prepare the egg for decoration, it has to be emptied and washed to remove any trace of the albumen. Then the designs are painted over the egg with hot wax. The finer the details, the more prized the final result, but also important is the story, because pysanka is not simply a pretty object.  It might include a wish, a tale, or a dream. Waving lines usually signify water, while squares mean the same thing as the Chinese character 田, a field.

Once the egg is painted, it’s colored. In the past, all dyes were naturals–onion skins for dark red, birch buds for mustard yellow, walnut shells for black, and mallow flowers for blue and pink. The first dye completed, the egg is painted with wax again, to add another layer of designs, and it’s dyed again. The master starts with the palest hue and proceeds to the darkest. The more colors the design has, the more complex is the process.

Once the pysanka is finished, it needs to be broken. I had to stop the guide and ask her again, worried that I misunderstood. But no, to preserve pysanka, the inner membrane that covers the shell needs to be removed, otherwise it will cause the shell to crumble. Then the egg is filled with paper and the whole is reconstituted. All of the eggs in the museum are conserved this way, but you have to look very closely to see the break.

The museum has pysanky that are over a century old, but their colors are still vivid as are their stories.

The pysanky differ from region to region. The elaborate tableau of pysanka below is done in the Lemko tradition. Lemko is one of many ethnic groups in the Carpathians, and they are known for their music and decorative arts. Andy Warhol was of Lemko origin, to give you an idea.

     

The museum also holds a collection of decorated eggs from other countries, like Poland and Hungary, explaining their techniques and symbols. The egg below, for example, was created by scratching the design onto the surface.

The Ukrainian diaspora in the United States and Europe also offers pysanka workshops before Easter. The Ukrainian Museum in the New York City has a beautiful permanent collection and classes. But if you have a chance to visit Ukraine, don’t miss Kolomyia, an ancient town with the many layers of history and its unique Pysanka Museum.

Pysanka Museum
Address: Vyacheslav Chornovil Ave, 43Б, Kolomyia, Ivano-Frankivs’ka oblast, Ukraine, 78200
Phone: +380 3433 27891

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Extra: not all of us are endowed with the skill to make pysanky, but krashanka, a colored Ukrainian Easter egg, is very easy to make. They are usually prepared for the Easter spread, and in my column, Easter Eggs Colored With Onion Skins, I explain how to use onion skins to dye eggs naturally.

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36 Comments

  • Rachel: How beautiful! The egg in your first photo looks especially intricate. April 6, 2018 at 8:12am Reply

    • Victoria: The large egg is ostrich, I think. Yes, it was really quite spectacular. April 6, 2018 at 10:15am Reply

      • Rachel: Wow! Must be a very special place to visit. April 7, 2018 at 6:53am Reply

        • Victoria: It was! I highly recommend it, and that whole region too. April 9, 2018 at 6:21am Reply

  • Iuliana: Wonderful post (as always) – I would only question the only in Ukraine :-). In the north of Romania (Bucovine), where I come from, they are really not that different from some shown above. Happy Easter and all the best!
    Iuliana April 6, 2018 at 9:53am Reply

    • Victoria: Agreed, eggs are painted in many countries. What’s more, you can see similarities between the designs in places like Poland and Iran, which tells you that it’s an old tradition. April 6, 2018 at 10:17am Reply

  • Natalie: There is a fabulous display of pysanky currently on show in France (until the end if June) at 27 Avenue Foch, 94300 Vincennes, France.
    (More info at this FB page: see the March 15 posting
    https://m.facebook.com/maisoneparchialevincennes/ April 6, 2018 at 10:08am Reply

  • Amalia: Happy Easter from Greece, health and happiness to you and your loved ones! April 6, 2018 at 11:33am Reply

    • Victoria: Happy Easter! Much happiness and good health to you too. April 6, 2018 at 1:33pm Reply

  • rickyrebarco: Stunning!! Love to see these. April 6, 2018 at 11:57am Reply

    • Victoria: I went to Kolomyia twice just to visit the museum again. April 6, 2018 at 1:34pm Reply

      • AndreaR: Were you able to visit The Folk Arts Museum in Kolomyia as well? April 7, 2018 at 4:00pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, it was a great visit. April 9, 2018 at 6:24am Reply

  • mary k: Wow! These are amazing. There’s even a large one right in front of the museum. Thank you for sharing this with us. April 6, 2018 at 12:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: They’ve done a great job showcasing the collection. It’s fun to see all of these beautiful pieces, but it’s also fascinating to learn what each symbol means. April 6, 2018 at 1:35pm Reply

  • Emilie: These are so beautiful. I’m glad they have found a way of preserving the older eggs. It would have been a great shame to lose them to time! April 6, 2018 at 7:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: Very true. During one of the workshops I painted my own egg, but I confess that I couldn’t break it to go through with the rest of the steps. April 9, 2018 at 6:20am Reply

      • Emilie: That must have been so wonderful doing a workshop there! Yes, I imagine it would feel very wrong breaking something beautiful that you have worked so hard on.

        Have you posted a picture of the egg you decorated anywhere Victoria? April 9, 2018 at 6:39pm Reply

        • Victoria: Here it is:
          https://boisdejasmin.com/2016/05/postcard-from-ukraine-pysanky.html
          Not an art object, but I had fun making it. April 10, 2018 at 2:32pm Reply

          • Emilie: Thank you for the link, it is lovely 🙂 I like the vivid red you chose a lot. Bright eggs always look so nice against a white table cloth for Easter. April 10, 2018 at 3:43pm Reply

            • Victoria: Thank you! At first, the egg was colored yellow to create the petals, and then I added red. Mixed with yellow, it gave an orange cast to the hue, which looked bright. In the past, of course, natural colors were used, but today it’s more common to turn to synthetics. April 11, 2018 at 11:53am Reply

  • Mia: How gorgeous pysanky! I don’t know what exactly it is but there is something immediately strongly appealing in the egg shape combined with various artistic decoration. Of the ones you have chosen here, I absolutely adore the last, brown white beauty.

    I am also familiar with the “lay” version of this art form, decorating Easter eggs with onion peels-and do that every year. As child I also water coloured the eggs with my mother, which was a lot of fun.

    All happy things for you Victoria and thank you for sharing this! April 6, 2018 at 11:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: I agree, it instantly looks so elegant and complete. April 9, 2018 at 6:20am Reply

  • Klaas: Thank you Victoria, for another wonderful post! Easter eggs inspire happy thoughts in me…..we used to paint them at home when I was a kid. Not to the same result as these pysanky, but very decorative non the less 😉 April 7, 2018 at 11:59am Reply

    • Victoria: Decorating Easter eggs is so much fun. This year I made the simple onion skin version. April 9, 2018 at 6:22am Reply

  • AndreaR: The Lemko eggs are amazing!!! Any idea of how those crazy colors are created. As a teen in California, I was taught to write pysanky by a wonderful lady. Based on the designs I learned, I expect she was from the Carpathian Mountain region. I was taught not to blow eggs. It seems to me that it was important to maintain the energy/magic of the egg by keeping the yolk inside the egg. April 7, 2018 at 3:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: But wouldn’t the egg rot if you left the yolk and the white inside? All of these Lemko pysanky at the museum were empty. April 9, 2018 at 6:24am Reply

      • AndreaR: Yes, they do rot and you hope your egg won’t break or explode for the first year. My oldest pysanky that I’ve collected over the years still have their yolks/whites and you can feel the weight of the “fossilized” yolks. April 9, 2018 at 10:09am Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, I’d rather empty mine. 🙂 April 9, 2018 at 11:35am Reply

  • Mj: This museum is surely beautiful!. This past Easter, I visited Colmar and there was a small exhibition of artisanal Easter eggs. Some of them painted, some carved. Very interesting.

    In Spain there’s no tradition of painting eggs that I know of. The ones I have at home I bought them in Austria and then my kids gifted me some, made by themselves, for Mother’s Day. They are not as artistic or pretty like the ones I got in Vienna, but they are very dear for me. April 8, 2018 at 4:12am Reply

    • Victoria: There are carved Easter eggs in Ukraine too, and then there is an interesting art form where the egg is scratched and treated with acid to make the engraved design. It looks like fine lace.

      It’s so interesting to learn about different Easter traditions through these comments! April 9, 2018 at 6:25am Reply

  • Kandice: This has to be one of my favorite posts of yours by far. These are just beautiful and how wonderful to know a whole museum exists to showcase this art form. Thanks so much for sharing this. April 8, 2018 at 8:47am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Kandice. I’m glad that you liked it. I enjoyed discovering this museum and all of its treasures, so I’m glad to share. Hope to find more interesting things this year. April 9, 2018 at 6:26am Reply

  • Aurora: Perhaps I like the abstract pysanky best of all but am charmed by the ‘church’ ones, of course there is also the tradition of ‘jewel’ eggs made famous by Faberge. I wish they were all in one museum too instead of scattered. April 10, 2018 at 5:25am Reply

    • Victoria: My favorite ones are the simple geometrical ones. In fact, it’s much harder to create those designs, because you can always hide your mistakes in a complex pattern. April 10, 2018 at 2:39pm Reply

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