● By Wendy Sipple
For an art form that’s been around for 3,000 years, pysanky is little known in the U.S., but is something local artist Jaime Baxter has devoted herself to the last 15 years.
Developed in Ukraine as a method to honor the Sun God, pysanky is the art of dying eggs in artistic patterns and scenes by using a stylus to draw lines of melted wax, which then serve to mask the space when the egg is dyed. Eggs are dyed in multiple colors, progressing from lightest to darkest, before the wax is melted to reveal the final design. “Most of my eggs take from five to 12 hours to do,” Baxter says. “I used to hold the egg over a candle to melt the wax, but now I use a heat gun. The best moment is when the wax – which is all black at the end – melts and slides away and the egg is revealed.”
Born in Edmonton, Canada, Baxter says her Ukrainian mother urged her toward the arts at an early age, but it wasn’t until she discovered pysanky that she truly found her passion. Unfortunately, a pre-teen playing with wax and an open candle flame wasn’t what her mother had in mind, so she had to wait until she was about 20 years old before really diving into it.
While pysanky traditionally focuses on certain styles of designs, Baxter say she likes to bring her own style to the art. “I see things and go, ‘Wow, that would look really cool on an egg,’” she says. “I actually did corsets on a few.” Other nontraditional designs include images of sea life dyed on the eggs.
Though the art form predates Christianity by about 1,000 years, Baxter says it has transitioned into being referenced as Ukrainian Easter eggs, though Easter isn’t her busiest time. “The funny thing is a lot of people assume that Easter is my really busy time of year,” she says. “I’m not usually in that mindset. I try to focus more on Christmas tree ornaments.” Baxter says the eggs are the perfect size for ornaments, and contrary to popular assumption, really aren’t very breakable. “They’re drained, so they weight almost nothing, and then they have four layers of varnish over them,” she shares, adding that they can be dropped several feet onto a carpeted surface and be just fine, and even short falls onto tile or wood flooring usually leave them intact. “They’re stronger than most glass Christmas tree ornaments,” she says. Baxter’s next challenge is figuring out how to cover the eggs in a form of liquid glass, which adds to the luster of the pieces and makes them stronger, though she intends to do it for the artistry, not the strength.
Baxter shows her art at the Auburn Old Town Gallery on Washington Street, and you can also find her on Facebook. In the future, Baxter says she hopes to be able to host classes on the art form and introduce more people to pysanky. •