Ukrainian Easter eggs reflect her native soul

April 02, 1994|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Sun Staff Writer

In a very small way, Mrs. Jaroslava Solhan can hold the essence of her Ukrainian homeland in the palm of her hand.

And she passes the soul of her native country along to friends, family and people who know little of her country's story other than the loveliness of the patterns and symbols with which she decorates traditional Easter eggs.

All year long, in her home in Curtis Bay, she turns out glowing examples of the traditional craft. There are large goose eggs, duck eggs, grade A extra-large eggs; each one with a rich and colorful coat that celebrates the season.

"I am not a professional," she says. "It is a hobby. At night, sometimes I do one or two. It passes the time."

Much time has passed between her memories of the Easter celebrations of her girlhood and the way she marks the holiday now.

She has always been interested in art and was a painter, she says, and turned her talent to a craft that was left many years, world wars, and languages away.

She fled the Ukraine with her family in 1944, wound through displaced-persons camps in Germany and eventually emigrated to the United States.

The family came to Baltimore in 1951. Mrs. Zolhan got right down to work at the Carr Lowrey Glass factory in Westport and stayed on for 25 years.

In 1976 she retired and was widowed in the same year.

With her son and daughter grown and with families of their own, she still keeps her hands busy.

She did her homework, taught herself and invented her own designs from old pattern books and cherished examples that are held dearly by families in the Ukrainian community.

Now her eggs fill the time between family, friends and helping with baking and cooking projects of the Church Sisterhood of the Immaculate Conception.

No electrified wax pens for her, which younger practitioners of the craft now use. She uses a traditional wooden stylus that holds wax held over a candle to it make fluid.

The method consists of laying on a series of wax designs that resist dye until a mosaic of color emerges.

"It is not a hobby for children," says Mrs. Zolhan.

Her children and grandchildren appreciate the eggs, but haven't taken a turn at them. Nancy Kozak, her niece-in-law, is her enthusiastic booster in helping Mrs. Zolhan make a little egg money. A secretary at the law firm of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, she brings a bagful to work, the fanciful eggs stashed safely in modest pressed-paper cartons.

Priscilla Caskey, an attorney who heads the real-estate department at the firm, says the eggs are hard to resist. "Each one is fabulous. I have daughters who are 29, 27 and 24 -- not an age for candy baskets, but I got them for all of my daughters because the intricacy is mind-boggling. It's impossible to walk by them, and impossible to buy only one."

Mrs. Zolhan isn't into high production; she turns out about five dozen a year. That's about 60 eggs, not counting the discards that suffer the expected cracks.

One egg takes four to five hours and she works two at a time. Time adds up.

It is Ukrainian tradition to carry a basket of food and the best and finest eggs to church to be blessed at Easter time.

If beautiful eggs bring blessings, Mrs. Zolhan's are a sure thing.

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