Ukrainian eggs an art form to dye for

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal staff writer
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Wax, fire and raw eggs sound more like the ingredients for a prank than an art form. But Auburn artist Jaime Baxter uses these materials to create ornate, colorful art out of plain old chicken eggs. Pysanky is the art of creating Ukrainian Easter eggs using a method that involves wax resist and egg dye. Baxter’s love affair with pysanky spans roughly 20 years. She grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, a region with a large Ukrainian population. “This wasn’t an uncommon art form up there,” she said. Baxter’s first attempt at pysanky was in the fifth grade, and she loved it. “I came home and said, ‘Mom, we did the coolest thing in school today!’” she said. But once Baxter’s mother learned the art form involved working with fire, eggs and melted wax, she said no. “I showed some artistic talent when I was young and my parents shoved it down my throat. This was the one thing I wasn’t allowed to do, so this is the one thing I really still enjoy,” Baxter said. It all starts with a fresh, room temperature egg. Baxter gets her eggs from Echo Valley Ranch and says grocery store eggs just don’t take dye as well. There are 12 basic divisions, and after sketching her initial design in pencil, Baxter uses a tool called a kistka, or stylus, to apply wax to the egg. Everything that is to remain white gets wax before Baxter applies the first, and lightest, round of dye, usually yellow. Baxter applies a second round of wax, covering anything she’d want to keep the yellow, before dyeing the egg a darker color, applying additional details with wax between color applications. After the egg is dyed its final color — Baxter said it’s usually black, dark red or navy blue — it’s time for Baxter’s favorite part of the process. “When you remove the wax it’s like magic to me,” she said. “It’ll be like the big reveal.” The final steps in the process involve varnishing, emptying and washing out the egg. The end result is ornate, but not as fragile as one might think. “They really are much more sturdy than glass Christmas ornaments,” Baxter said. Baxter has as much fun with modern design as she does with traditional Ukrainian pysanky patterns and images. She said traditional Ukrainian eggs date back thousands of years and were made as a Pagan ritual, as an offering to sun gods during spring. Wheat, corn, poppies and other agricultural designs were painted on the eggs in spring, when crops were planted. Baxter said she’ll spend four or five hours on some of her free-form eggs. Some of the more intricate designs take up to 20 hours. Baxter is one of the Auburn Old Town Gallery’s featured artists for the month of April. “Jaime Baxter’s pysanky eggs add an unusual twist to an already eclectic group of diverse art at the Auburn Old Town Gallery,” said Janet Nicholson, a fellow artist and gallery member. “Her attention to detail is incredible and her passion for her work is evident in her dedication to the eggs and to the gallery.” __________ Know and Go What: Reception for artists Jaime Baxter, Ty Conners and Barbara Hoffman during Auburn Art Walk When: 6-9 p.m. Thursday Where: Auburn Old Town Gallery, 218 Washington St. Info: (530) 887-9150