UKRAINIAN RESILIENCE PYSANKA

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Curator of North American Anthropology Alaka Wali received a gift of a pysanka from the Ukrainian National Museum (UNM) for the Field Museum's Pandemic Collection. Artist Anna Chychula wrote the egg for the UNM's 'Resilience Project' during the pandemic. The Field and UNM are connected through our partner, the Chicago Cultural Alliance. Ms. Chychula's egg contains traditional Ukrainian symbols of resilience and healing. UNM Curator Maria Klimchak emphasized this is even more relevant today as Ukraine is under attack by Russian armed forces. She is concerned about the state of museums in Ukraine, and said that museum staff there are working night and day to safeguard the collections. We are honored to include this special pysanka in our collection. The Resilience Pysanka can be viewed in the Main Hall at the Field Museum. (#T2022.7.1)

Writing on eggshells with beeswax and dye techniques is a longstanding practice across Central and East Europe with many regional and local variations in motifs and symbols. Eggs represent renewal and new life. Written eggs are most often created by women and given as gifts during the time leading up to Easter holidays.  In Ukraine these decorative eggs are called pysanky and Chicago-based pysanka artist Anna Chychula learned the craft from her mother, an immigrant from Ukraine.

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“When you write an egg for somebody, each triangle is a prayer for that person and what they are going through so it’s very meaningful if they have illness or if they have difficulties—as you’re writing this egg you have them in mind and you are praying for them, for the Ukrainian  community, for the Chicago community, for the American community, I wanted to tie it in there that we were looking out for each other and that we were connected.” - Anna Chychula

Anna incorporated two motifs in her resilience pysanka: the “Forty Triangles” pattern (left), and Berehynia (right), an ancient Ukrainian symbol sometimes referred to as “mother goddess.”  The completed Resilience Egg is pictured in the center. 

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The forty triangles pattern divides the egg into 40 triangles (or 48 depending on the design) and when an artist creates each triangle they are also placing a prayer on the egg for its intended recipient. Chychula created the resilience triangle with healing prayers for “the Ukrainian community, for the Chicago community, for the American community.”

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Although chicken eggs are most commonly used for pysanky, other types are also used. Anna selected a goose egg for the resilience pysanka because, she says, “I needed a big canvas.”

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“Berehynia” is depicted as a curl with a wing and can be found within alternating triangles on the egg. Curls represent continuity and can also represent water. “Berehynia” contains the word bereh, meaning “shore” or “riverbank” and may also relate to berehty, meaning “to protect”. Chychula selected this symbol for its strength and as a reminder of human connection to nature and to life.

Progression of the Resilience Egg

“When you start writing the egg it’s hot wax, beeswax, being written through a fine stylus / kystka and the shell is porous so you start from light and you work to dark, so the first lines you draw are white (that’s purity), next step yellow (that’s light), and you go to green (youth, hope), to orange (endurance), and to blue (sky, air, good health).

 

I specifically did not pick black as a final color—many pysanky stop at black or red—black is darkest before dawn but I didn’t necessarily want to do that. Blue was the darkest color that I picked and I wanted it to be health and blue sky. I really wanted it to just stay in the positive. Because we were already going through dark times; there was no need to continue that." - Anna Chychula

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