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Budding artists take a crack at Ukrainian egg dyeing

A workshop is held to teach the ancient batik method of wax resist known as pysanky to make Ukrainian Easter eggs. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)

Northeast Baltimore resident Shanika Baylor was eager to spend a “crafty day” with her 11-year-old daughter, Kamyiah Gray.

Baylor wanted to tap into the artistic predilection of Kamyiah while “spending mom and daughter time” together.

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“Good job,” Baylor said as she held up Kamyiah’s work for the day — a black egg adorned with multicolored religious symbols.

The 20 attendees at the morning session of “Pysanky: Ukrainian Egg Dyeing workshop” were able to impart their own flair to an ancient custom that has been practiced in Europe for more than 2,000 years.

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Their teacher, Halyna Mudryj, a Baltimore-based Ukrainian artist, has been making the eggs for more than 50 years. The MICA graduate learned the art from her mother when she was 4.

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“They [eggs] have a huge history,” explained Mudryj, who has been teaching the class at the Creative Alliance for the past 10 years. On Sunday, she taught a morning and afternoon class. “And I’d like people to know this. And what better way than through art?”

Before Baylor, Kamyiah and the other attendees decorated their own eggs, Mudryj first demonstrated the proper way to adorn them.

The process involved dipping the eggs in jewel tone-colored vinegar dyes and then using a stylus to draw designs with hot beeswax onto the shell of the egg. She made it look effortless. Within 15 minutes, she was putting the finishing touches on her own masterpiece: a black egg with a red, yellow, green and orange flower.

“No two eggs are ever exactly alike,” she explained to the class. “Each egg has its own personality.”

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Mudryj also took the time to explain the origins of the eggs, which pre-dated the forming of Christianity. She said that the eggs were originally made to celebrate the “Rites of Spring.” The decorated eggs were offered up to pagan gods. As time went on and Christianity grew, the pagan symbols that once decorated the eggs were replaced by Christian symbols. Mudryj also explained that each color represents something. For example, orange represents happiness, black represents remembrance, and red represents love.

“When you make an egg, try and copy the symbols so you can carry on the tradition,” she told the class.

Linda Scheetz took the class two years ago and enjoyed it so much that she returned this year to volunteer and assist Mudryj.

“Can’t you just visualize the bunnies hopping around these eggs?” she said to the workshop attendees. “It’s so much fun.”

Scheetz spent most of the session yelling encouragement to the egg makers.

“That’s beautiful,” she said to Baylor.

“That’s great,” she added to Kamyiah.

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The class appeared to have made an impact on its youngest participant: Kamyiah.

“I liked learning the background information about the egg,” she said.

Participant Linda Pelle most enjoyed finishing her work of art. Her egg was adorned with an orange bird that suspiciously resembled an Oriole, and a series of green and yellow flowers.

“I liked how the colors turned out,” the Parkville resident said.

Her husband, Chuck, created an orange egg peppered with birds, starbursts and other symbols.

“It was the easiest thing to do,” he said. “I’d do it again because it’s easy and fun.”

What did Baylor think of her own creation?

“It’s hideous,” she said with a laugh. “I thought my egg was going to look like the pictures.”

Baylor cast her eyes at her creation — a multicolored patterned egg that was anchored by a black background.

“I’m just learning,” Baylor admitted. “It’s the process of learning.”

Kamyiah said she was eager to make the eggs in the future.

“At least next time it will be better,” she said as she admired her creation, which was adorned with symbols that she said were influenced by Jesus. “I’ll do it again because I love art and I like to make mistakes and turn it into something amazing.”

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