by Carol Stevens
HUERFANO– Judy Passow transforms ordinary eggs into things of beauty through the art of Ukrainian egg decorating.
A Ukrainian folk tale explains the origin of the tradition. “One day a poor peddler went to the market place to sell a basket of eggs. He came upon a crowd mocking a man who staggered with a heavy cross on which he was about to be crucified. The peddler ran to his aid, leaving the basket by the roadside. When he returned, he found the eggs transformed into exquisite designs of bright colors. The man was Christ; the peddler was Simon. The eggs were to become the symbol of rebirth of all mankind.”
For over 2000 years, the art of decorating eggs has been passed down through generations of Ukrainian families. Eggs represent rebirth, a new beginning and the coming of spring. In the Christian tradition, Easter eggs symbolize the resurrection and promise of eternal life.
Egg decorating gave Judy Passow rebirth. Passow was involved in a head-on collision in 1986 in Germany. She was so badly hurt the doctors placed her in semi-traction. The local pastor’s wife stopped in to visit Passow and brought eggs and dyes to gain her interest. Thus began Passow’s rehabilitation.
After being released from the hospital, Passow found books on Ukrainian egg decorating and spent two years learning the techniques. She said, “the hardest thing to learn was drawing a straight line on a curved surface.”
Both Passow’s brothers are very artistic, and she wanted to be just like them. While attending high school in Colorado Springs, she signed up for art class, but her teacher felt she had no artistic ability. However, by 1989, Passow was living in Washington D.C. and was giving classes at the Smithsonian. To date, two of her eggs are on display at the Smithsonian.
According to Passow, the best egg to use is farm raised. Commercially produced eggs do not dye well and have marks on the shell from the processing. The best eggs are light in color: pullet, chicken, duck, goose, or ostrich. An ostrich egg is most interesting because there is a large area to draw on. When decorated, an ostrich egg could fetch $350.00.
The process is quite time consuming, progressing from light to dark colors. Ukrainian Easter eggs are hand-decorated by the batik method which uses beeswax and special dyes. Original dye colors are yellow, orange, red and black. Each egg is hand-drawn using a kistka filled with melted beeswax. An intricate design could take up to 27 hours to complete, and a simple design, approximately four hours.
Different designs have different meanings. For example, a wavy line depicts water or fertility; dots are stars in heaven or the tears of Mary. Poppies are the beloved flower of the Ukrainians. Deer show wealth and prosperity, diamonds suggest knowledge, the color black symbolizes eternity, and a ladder represents prayers to Heaven. Each egg could depict history or be personalized to the recipient. A gentleman named Peacock once contacted Passow through the Smithsonian and wanted an egg decorated with peacocks. After decorating four eggs, Passow got the results she was looking for and sold the egg for $175.
Ukrainian eggs have taken Passow to places all over the world to teach. Passow was once confronted by a Ukrainian group in Washington D.C. They had seen their grandparents decorating the eggs and begged her to teach them. Three years ago, she taught the technique to students at the annual Gardner School artist’s day.
Passow’s life has been enriched by decorating Ukrainian eggs. It’s a talent that has brought her joy. It’s amazing that through her accident, she found a path that is so fulfilling