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In an old tradition, Pa. woman finds new adherents

March 3, 2014
Associated Press

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) — An art form more than 1,000 years old - which is still done in the same fashion today - will be taught in time for Easter.

Traditional Pysanki classes will be held from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday for beginners and from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. March 15 for intermediate students at Bottle Works, 411 Third Ave. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.

Paulett Simunich of Richland Township will teach the Ukrainian method of Pysanki egg decorating.

"It's the most popular and the most known," she said.

Rosemary Pawlowski of Bottle Works said Simunich has been teaching the classes for years.

"She is excellent," Pawlowski said.

"It can get very intensive, but she breaks it all down. I think people shock themselves when they can do it."

Simunich watched her mother and Bubba decorate eggs at a woodstove using the drop-pull method when she was 5 or 6 years old.

Simunich explained that when the Slavs made eggs, they used a piece of wood the size of a matchstick and a straight pin.

They used the head of the pin to draw the design with beeswax, and their heat source was a votive candle.

Simunich's mother and Bubba used the same method, but heated their beeswax in a metal lid on the top of the woodstove.

"That's how I learned," Simunich said.

"I had to sit on the table to watch them. When I asked when it would be my turn, my Bubba said when you can reach the stove."

By the time Simunich was 7 years old, the three generations were painting eggs at the stove, then it was her and her mother after her Bubba died.

Her father told relatives in New York about mother and daughter painting eggs every Easter and asked if there was a store that could send egg dye.

Most of the traditional Easter egg dyes do not get dark enough to make Pysanki.

"My aunt sent some dyes from a Ukrainian store, a different stylus and a postcard picture of some eggs," Simunich said.

"I was self-taught."

Simunich taught friends when she was a teen and has been making Pysanki for more than 50 years.

"People call at the beginning of the year and ask when we're having classes," Simunich said.

"I'm happy people in the community want to learn this centuries-old tradition."

In the beginner's class, Simunich teaches how to hold the egg, how to control the stylus, or kitska, and the eye-hand coordination of drawing a straight line on a curved object.

Beginners first make a one-color egg for control, then graduate to a multicolor egg.

"New painters are so unsure of themselves," Simunich said.

"The nicest part of any class for me is when they're taking the wax off the egg. They have been under so much stress and won't believe me when I tell them their mistakes won't be noticed in the overall scheme. It blends together and is lovely."

As Simunich's students hold their eggs to the side of the flame to melt the beeswax and wipe it off with tissue, their eyes open in excitement.

"They're saying ooh, oh my, or wow, did I really do that, and they don't realize they're talking out loud," she added.

Simunich has been holding the intermediate class for about three years, ever since enough interest has been shown, and the class has been well attended.

In this class, egg artists do only one egg with a much more intricate design.

The design of a Pysanki egg is done in reverse, so that is where a student puts on the wax, the dye will not go.

Colors for the egg baths start with the lightest color, yellow, and progress through orange, red and black, dark blue or purple for the last step.

"Each color bath is a different step," Simunich said.

"You pat the egg dry and let it set to air-dry."

When students complete their third egg, they no longer think of it as an egg, but as a work of art.

"It makes my heart feel wonderful," Simunich said.

"I'd hate to see this dry up and fade away. It's an art form that's more than 1,000 years old."

Simunich can handle no more than 10 beginners or intermediate students in a class.

"They need one-on-one attention, she said.

"I would rather have them like what they're doing than feel a failure."

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Online:

http://bit.ly/MJiYYQ

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Information from: The Tribune-Democrat, http://www.tribune-democrat.com

 
 

 

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