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Is pysanky a glimpse of heaven?

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS  It took Georgine Postupack Borchack three years to complete this pysanky masterpiece written on an ostrich egg.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS It took Georgine Postupack Borchack three years to complete this pysanky masterpiece written on an ostrich egg.
Published April 22. 2011 05:00PM

Georgine Postupack Borchack sits in prayer. She sits and meditates from deep within.

For an hour or more she talks to God. She reflects on her strong Ukrainian heritage and rich ethnic traditions. She offers thanks for family, love, life and health. She asks the Lord to bless those here and those departed. And she does it with sincerity and conviction.

Then something wonderful happens.

Georgine picks up a kistka, or stylus, and through her fingertips flows the magic of texture, design and ornamentation. In a matter of moments, she creates a cacophony of color, producing breathtaking work among the finest in the field. What she creates can replicate the intricate wonder of Michelangelo's masterpiece reduced to the size of an egg.

Georgine is a master in the ancient discipline of pysanky. Over the past 58 years, the McAdoo woman has created over 10,000 elaborate pysanky design eggs.

How good is her work? Well, some of her finished pieces have been snatched up by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where they've been part of the Museum of Natural Arts since 1992.

Don't be mistaken. Georgine doesn't use decals. Nor are stencils involved. Her work is done entirely freehand. Her fingers glide over an egg as if playing a harp inspired from Above.

"I never do an egg unless I pray," she says, as she demonstrates her talent to a group of 30 gathered in early April at the Blickley mansion on Bernhard Road near Barnesville. The women are art aficionados who unite monthly to celebrate culture and the fine arts.

According to Georgine, pysanky dates back to at least 988 A. D. It was embraced by her Ukrainian ancestors and other nationalities.

"The egg represents the life, death and resurrection of Christ," she explains.

Decorating the egg requires turning it in one hand while applying a design with the other.

Wax lines are drawn using the kistka, which has been dipped into hot beeswax.

The egg with its wax pattern is then dunked into dye. Those steps are repeated, each time applying more beeswax and dunking into different color dyes. When finished, the wax is removed with the help of heat, unveiling the finished design. The egg is then pierced with a sharp instrument and the yolk removed. The work of art then can be varnished using Varathane.

Originally, water-based paints made with vinegar were used, often utilizing color from the bark of trees, or maybe flowers, leaves and onion skins. Even vegetables such as red beets were popular as a color source, and still are. However, chemical dyes available today offer convenience.

Those who create pysanky don't say they paint eggs. Instead, they say they write. In fact, the word pysanky means artistic writing. Pysanky is the plural form; singular is pysanka.

Even though it can denote the life of Jesus, pysanky dates to earlier times.

"It actually began with pagans roots," says Georgine. People long ago felt that eggs symbolized the release of earth from the darkness of winter. Various customs emerged. For instance, eggs were decorated and buried to guarantee a good harvest. Each tribe had its own customs and designs. Same for each country. Sometimes the egg decorating process varied.

"A Lithuanian egg is etched," says Georgine.

With the growth of Christianity, eggs became a symbol of the Resurrection.

For Georgine, pysanky tradition also honors her family roots.

"I'm an American-Ukrainian," she says. "My grandparents came here for a better life."

A cosmetologist by trade, Georgine has taught pysanky at Penn State and many other institutions, including Misericordia University, Marian High School, and the Hazleton Art League, along with giving private lessons.

"No egg is ever the same," she says. "Every color, every line has a meaning. For instance, yellow means a good harvest."

On this day, she chose a design with elements representing the four corners of the earth and the concept of eternity.

One simple egg in four or five colors can take 90 minutes to finish. However, Georgine's most elaborate ostrich eggs take much longer - nine months. Her Michelangelo-style egg took three years to complete, with each stroke painstakingly applied using a two-or-three-hair artist's brush.

The smallest egg decorated is the finch egg, at a fraction of an inch. The quail egg, too, is very small, providing a special challenge. Georgine encouraged her six children to dabble in pysanky. (She also has thirteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren). She welcomes all folks to give pysanky a try. While pysanky is popular at Easter, many pysanky writers also produce decorative Christmas eggs, too.

As for Georgine, she'll continue her pysanky passion as long as people appreciate it and want to learn.

Pysanky admirers express amazement at the intricate patterns and vibrant colors. They marvel in Georgine's religious-themed pieces with their classical touches.

If heaven is a place of beauty and color, then pysanky in its highest form might just give us a glimpse of the beyond. Of course, we don't really know what heaven looks like. But there is an old, old legend regarding the mystery and magic of pysanky, and it hints of divine inspiration.

Long ago, our ancestors said that as long as pysanky exists, peace will prevail on earth and the world will not end.

At age 71, Georgine has understood that message for a lifetime. It's too important a message to be lost or forgotten. Pysanky must continue, and Georgine is doing everything she can to make sure it does.

"It's a gift from God that I want to pass on," she says.

And it might just be a glimpse of heaven, too.

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