Every spring I think about Barbara Hollar.
Barbara not only was the subject of my first interview for a California newspaper. She is a charming woman with the ability to use simple supplies, intricate patterns and delicate skill to transform a common cooking ingredient into miniature works of art.
In fact, it was a cookbook cover from a Time Life series that inspired Barbara to begin decorating the delicate shells with Ukrainian designs. Her preferred medium? Jumbo-sized eggs from the supermarket. Her standard supplies include beeswax, dye and vinegar.
Pysanky—the Ukrainian term for this intricate craft—is rich with symbolic designs and rich, warm hues. Many of the designs reflect religious or nature themes, such as a butterfly for the resurrection of Christ and dots for the tears Mary shed, while traditional colors include orange, red, dark red, black and green. In the old days, artisans made their own dyes from whatever was available, usually foodstuff such as onion skins, carrots and beets, which is why you won’t see any blues or purples in the patterns.
|Different stages of the same design.|
Barbara draws her designs directly onto the egg with a pencil then uses beeswax to cover the areas she doesn’t want affected by the next color bath—just like batik. It takes her a minimum of three and sometimes 20 hours to complete a design.
Barbara became a pysanky artist in the 1960s, when she bought an egg-painting kit while shopping with a friend. In the following three decades, Barbara has painted eggs for pleasure, for friends and for celebrities including actress Joan Rivers and chef Martin Yan.
While watching Barbara gently yet confidently decorate the shells, it seemed as if her advice was as apt to her artistry as to life.
- “With color you never get the same shade twice.” Instead of being frustrated by this, Barbara allows herself to be invigorated and surprised by serendipitous joy.
- “The interesting thing about eggs is every one is a different shape. Each has some kind of flaw or bump or lump.” Instead of trying to endlessly pursue and never obtain perfection, Barbara sees differences as the foundation for something beautiful and exciting.
- “I have put hours into an egg only to have it break. But it is very exciting to finish an egg and have it come out beautifully. Every egg is a degree of success for you.” Barbara doesn’t let the possibility of something not coming out exactly as she planned stop her from trying something new. Every design teaches her something and leaves her with a memory.
- “When you are through, you have something you’ve put time and effort into. No matter how many times I do this, it’s still magic.” And it is magic, to use your heart and hands to create a tangible gift.
Springtime might make me think of Barbara’s eggs, but her words of wisdom are ones I treasure all year long, especially since they help me be a better writer as well as experience a more joyous life outside of the writing studio.
This egg, which Barbara made for Marcelo and I, has made it through five moves and almost the same number of cats.
How has art transformed your life?