T h e U k r a i n i a n M u s e u m
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The Enduring Tradition of the Ukrainian Pysanka
New York, March 9, 2007 Beautiful pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs), the quintessential and most widely recognizable representatives of Ukrainian folk culture, are once again making an appearance at The Ukrainian Museum - a welcome reminder that spring is just around the corner. The exhibition Pysanka: Vessel of Life opened to visitors on March 3, 2007, and will be on view through July 1, 2007. Lubow Wolynetz, curator of the Museum's Folk Art collection, curated the exhibition.
The exhibition features the work of pysanka artist Tanya Osadca. Also included in this show are pysanky and embroidered shirts from the Museum's own extensive folk art collection, displaying regional similarities in design and coloration in embroidery and pysanky ornamentation.
The Museum is honored and most pleased to headline the highly respected work of artist Tanya Osadca, a master of the pysanka craft and an esteemed authority on Ukrainian folk art. Ms. Osadca, who studied art history at Kent State University, found a passion for pysanky very early in life, having watched her grandmother and mother decorate the eggs. She became an expert pysanka artist, demonstrated the craft widely, and devoted many years to researching the history, symbolism, and application of the ancient pysanky designs. Her work in this field allowed her to develop one of the most important collections of pysanky outside of Ukraine, which have been exhibited throughout the United States, Canada, and Ukraine.
A most unique characteristic of Tanya Osadca's pysanky collection is that in her work she has remained true to the original. In each case she has produced faithful reproductions of pysanky that she had found during her years of research in various museums in Ukraine, in her travels throughout the country, as well as in published sources. In her strict adherence to tradition, she has added her part to the thread of continuity in our generation, so vital to the survival of our cultural legacy.
Interest in folk art in Ukraine was born in the early part of the 19th century, heralding a tremendous blossoming of national awareness. Scholars, researchers, and collectors went into the country, visiting villages; gathering songs, stories, traditions, customs; collecting embroidered and woven textiles, examples of intricate woodwork, metalwork, and of course - pysanky. The efforts of these students and collectors of folk art produced comprehensive documented material as well as large collections. Both have been invaluable in the study and appreciation of Ukrainian folk art.
For example, there are groups of pysanky representing the Pelahiia Bartosh Lytvynova collection (collected in 1876) and the Myron Korduba Study, dating from 1899. There are pysanky that mirror those in The Museum of Ethnography and Applied Art in L'viv, whose collection dates back to 1868, as well as those from the catalogue produced by Serhii Kuzhunskyj in 1899 and those researched by Erast Biniashevskyi, whose drawings were first reproduced in his book, published in 1968.
The part of the exhibition that features pysanky and embroidered shirts from the Museum's folk art collection is described by curator Lubow Wolynets: "The type of ornament and the color scheme in the embroidery of a particular region are very often similar to the design and color combination on the pysanky of that region." With this premise she calls attention to the fact that the cultural tastes of regions or even individual villages in Ukraine embodied their artistic expressions with favored characteristics unique to their area. Ms. Wolynetz explains further, "The individual motifs that are combined to create ornamental designs are similar throughout Ukraine, but the great variety of designs stems, to a large degree, from regional tastes and preferences. Each region has its own preferred color combination, rhythmic harmony, and compositional style."
Many of the decorated eggs displayed in this part of the exhibition were created by artist Sofika Zielyk at the request of the curator of the exhibition, for the purpose of ornamentation comparison with the embroidery. A native New Yorker, she was introduced to the craft by her mother. Today a successful pysanka artist, Sofika Zielyk is also a teacher of the craft, has lectured on the topic, and has exhibited her work widely in numerous galleries and museums. Her work is documented in the book The Art of the Pysanka by Sofika, published in 1993 in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian tradition of writing pysanky reaches back to antiquity. Lubow Wolynetz elaborated on this subject: "In attempting to understand the mystery of life and somehow grasp its fundamental impulse, man created myths about it, as well as cults and rituals surrounding the objects that were deemed to contain or be imbedded with these powers of life. The pysanka - Ukrainian Easter egg - is just such an object: a symbol of the greatest mystery experienced by man - the mystery of life - suffused by nature with the essence of life and through man's intervention with magical powers of protection."
The advent of Christianity in Ukraine in 988 did not dispel the traditions and the popularity of the pysanka mystique among the people, since they were deeply ingrained in their social infrastructure formed in the distant past. Subsequently, the pysanka and the customs associated with it were incorporated into the Christian religion. Many of the pagan celebrations, especially those associated with the arrival of spring, were interpreted with new Christian meaning and paralleled to the observances of the Easter holiday. Thus the pysanka became a very visible and viable part of this most dramatic and important Christian celebration.
The Ukrainian Museum has never failed in its thirty years of operations to foster the tradition of pysanka each spring for its constituents and the general public. In its folk art collection the Museum has hundreds of magnificent examples of pysanky, representing various regions of Ukraine, showing the diversity in design, color, and execution. In appreciation of the continuity of the pysanka tradition among the Ukrainian immigrant population in the United States and Canada, the Museum has numerous times featured the work of contemporary pysanka artists, who faithfully adhere to the time-honored principles of this fascinating craft. The latest such exhibition was presented in 2000 and featured the work of pysanka artists Jaroslava, Romana and Natalka Bachynsky from Montreal; Tanya Osadca from Troy, Ohio; Zenon Elyjiw of Rochester, New York; Luba Perchyshyn from Minneapolis; Ihor Slabitsky from Rhode Island; Yaroslava Surmach Mills from West Nyack, New York; and Sofika Zielyk of New York.
In the newly built, elegant facility of The Ukrainian Museum, in 20th century New York City, the venerable tradition of the Ukrainian pysanka is honored, and devotedly and enthusiastically continued. Once a practice enveloped in mystery, with rituals and symbolism that held deep and sacred significance for the people, the pysanka and its mystique have survived the turbulent passage of history. Shedding its religious relevance, creating a pysanka has remained a beloved custom to be treasured and delighted in.
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