Egg creations are beautiful by design

A Harford woman gains national renown for her ornate Ukrainian Easter decorations

April 16, 2006|By CASSANDRA FORTIN | CASSANDRA FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Leena BhaduriHauck removed a white egg from a carton and drew an outline of a design on it with a pencil.

Next, she dropped the egg into a yellow dye and set a cooking timer for five minutes. When the timer dinged, she removed the egg and placed it on a drying rack.

She sat down at the dining room table in her Street home and lit a tall yellow candle. Then she picked up a kistka, a tool used to apply beeswax to eggs, and ran the end of it through the candle flame.

She filled the tip of the kistka with wax, ran it through the flame again and tested the wax on a small piece of paper. She picked up a dyed egg and slowly began applying wax.

She was demonstrating the steps to create pysanky art - writing elaborate symbolic designs on eggs using hot wax and dyes.

"This technique dates back to the Bronze Age, and it's where the art of coloring Easter eggs originated," said the 46-year-old BhaduriHauck. "If you look at Easter candies - on eggs and bunnies - you see remnants of the Ukrainian symbols that this art is based on."

After more than a decade of creating pysanky eggs, BhaduriHauck has established herself as a leader of the art in the United States.

"She's one of the best pysanky artists I've ever seen," said Linda Zvitkovitz, who grew up in Ukraine decorating the eggs.

BhaduriHauck's eggs have been spotlighted in exhibits in the White House, Government House in Annapolis, the Clinton Presidential Library, and in private collections across the country. In addition, she creates eggs that she sells on a commission basis for $25 to $300 each. She also sells eggs at festivals throughout the year.

BhaduriHauck's introduction to pysanky came from her Latvian mother, who taught her to make natural dyes to color the eggs when she was a child. But she didn't learn any of the other parts of the pysanky process then.

Years later, she attended Goucher College, where in 1981 she earned a degree in biology. Her classes were primarily in the sciences, but she took an occasional art course.

At a summer art festival in 1995, she met Zvitkovitz, who was selling pysanky eggs for $8 to $12 each. BhaduriHauck liked what she saw and asked Zvitkovitz to teach her the art.

She started out slowly and perfected her talent over time.

At first, she worked on the eggs full time. But eventually she went to work as a loan officer for Chapman Mortgage Group Inc. in Cockeysville, and her pysanky was limited to evenings.

As she developed her skills, she learned some invaluable lessons.

"One of the most important things I learned was to make a hole in the bottom of the eggs because they can explode in the oven like little bombs if you don't," BhaduriHauck said.

In addition to practical lessons, she also learned patience and how to adjust to adverse circumstances.

"This art teaches you to adjust to things when they aren't perfect," she said.

She caught on right away in making the eggs, Zvitkovitz said. "Her peaceful personality lends itself to the craft," Zvitkovitz said. "She just ran with it."

BhaduriHauck quickly outgrew the lessons.

"When I make the eggs, I do straight lines and bold colors. She did things I would never dream of doing," said Zvitkovitz. "I taught her the technique, but she could see and imagine things better than I could."

After perfecting the technique, BhaduriHauck decided to create her own designs, Zvitkovitz said.

"She made a Santa Claus face on an egg that just floored me because usually the colors come out bright and bold on the eggs, and she made the Santa face with white whiskers and light rosy cheeks," said Zvitkovitz, 39, of Bel Air.

Once she was comfortable with the eggs she made, BhaduriHauck researched and learned about the spirituality and symbolism of the designs.

"Pysanky is practiced to bring good fortune, health and a myriad of blessings to those who receive them," BhaduriHauck said. "It's hard to part with the eggs because when you give someone an egg, there's a part of your spirit that goes with it."

Through her research, she also learned that some of the eggs have specific motifs incorporating the identity of the person for whom the egg is intended.

For example, a child might receive bright eggs with broad bands of color with animals or plants, while adults might receive the Forty Triangles egg that represents the complexity of life, she said.

Easter is a busy time for creating the eggs. Artisans who make the eggs make them for family, friends, priests, family animals - and even for bees.

The eggs may be placed at each end of a house, in barns or even in a beehive to protect the various inhabitants.

"A pysanky artist might make about 60 eggs for Easter," BhaduriHauck said. "Typically, the eggs are made during the 40 days of Lent, when people are thinking of others."

She generally spends about a week on an egg, though in some cases she's spent an entire year. That was the case with a peacock egg she created recently.

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