The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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March 17, 2014

Artistic tradition of painting eggs draws new generation

SHARON — Autumn Sirochman dips a cross-shaped stylus known as a kistka into the melting wax of a beeswax candle, and then draws a wax line on a raw chicken egg.

While Autumn, 10, of Brookfield, is being patient to try to make her lines as straight as she can, her dad, Joe, is finding the task a little harder than he thought it would be.

“Carol (Novosel) made it look so much easier,” he says, his lines not quite living up to the ideal of straight.

Joe, quick with a smile, a handshake and a joke, suddenly rises from his chair.

“I need a smoke,” he says, his smile wide. “This is too stressful.”

While Joe puts on his coat and steps outside, Autumn stays hunkered down over her egg. As careful as she has been, an egg is an egg and she loses the handle on hers, dropping in onto her lap, where it cracks.

Novosel quickly gets her another one.

“We have plenty of eggs,” Novosel says.

Autumn is trying to draw a star design similar to what Novosel has just done. A member of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Sharon, Autumn admits she hasn’t mastered working with the kistka.

“It’s really hard,” she said, from the basement of her church Sunday with 20 others who have come for the class.

But, it’s not something she is going to give up on easily.

“It’s really creative,” she said, adding that she hopes to try what she has learned at home.

Before letting her charges loose with eggs, beeswax candles and open flames, Novosel talked about the history of Ukrainian egg decorating.

The tradition goes back to Ukraine’s pagan days, before the time of Christ, the rise of the Roman empire or even the heyday of ancient Greece.

“These people were farmers,” Novosel said. “They lived off the land, they gathered. We’re talking 2,000 years ago-plus.”

Ancient Ukrainians worshipped the sun and emblazoned images of old Sol on everything – their walls, their clothes, their tapestries, she said.

Eggs were considered to be magic because the little, oval things turned into chickens, said Novosel, who introduced herself as “the egg lady.”

“This was before science, she said. “They put the symbol of the sun on eggs because they thought eggs were magic.”

While Novosel, who learned the art from her mother, aunt and grandmother, might not believe an egg is magic, she still attaches an importance to one that goes beyond the appreciation of a good omelet.

“I cry every time somebody breaks an egg,” she said, noting that a spree of throwing eggs at downtown Sharon businesses has left her disturbed.

In the year 988, the territories of present-day Ukraine around Kiev and Russ adopted Christianity. Ukrainians did not want to give up the tradition of egg decorating, and transformed the sun into a symbol of the risen Christ, thus beginning the connection between Easter and Ukrainian eggs, Novosel said.

“They were able to knit it seamlessly,” she said.

Bubbling below the surface of Novosel’s demonstration was the unrest in Ukraine, where Russia has occupied the Crimea after the Russian-backed president of Ukraine fled.

“It’s horrible,” Novosel said of recent events. “Our thoughts are over there today.”

The Russian leaders of the former Soviet Union suppressed Ukrainian egg decorating; yet, they also exploited it by selling Ukrainian eggs – some of which were made by Novosel and imported to Russia – to American tourists, she said.

Novosel noted that Slovakia, Poland and Russia are among the countries that have their own egg traditions. A Ukrainian egg is distinguishable from the other traditions in that it is written on, not in terms of handwriting – although that is acceptable – but by the use of the kistka, Novosel said.

Novosel pupil Cathleen Williams of West Middlesex makes Faberge eggs, pieces of artistic jewelry in which beads, glitter and jewels are affixed to ovoid shapes.

Williams, a member of West Middlesex United Methodist Church, said she attended the class to learn a different egg-decorating process. Having a Ukrainian egg would enhance her collection.

“I thought it would be another aspect of the art,” she said. “It’s a very nice art, especially for Easter.”

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