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Egg-xacting Hobby

Mary Ellen Walls’ Ukrainian masterpieces

In 1972, Mary Ellen Walls and her husband, Ray, were living in Minneapolis when they welcomed their second son, Eric, into the world. The day after Eric was born, Ray brought a recent National Geographic magazine into Mary Ellen’s hospital room. An article on Ukrainian Easter eggs highlighted a Ukrainian community in Minneapolis and a gift shop that sold the eggs. But Mary Ellen, who had long been fascinated with the eggs, figured it would take a lifetime to learn how to create them. And then, her doctor shared this coincidental news: He had bought his wife an egg-making kit, and she was now making them.

“I was floored,” Mary Ellen said, who immediately sent Ray out for a kit. The birth of a hobby continues today from the family home in Sisterdale, where Mary Ellen and Ray are served by Central Texas Electric Cooperative.

The process begins with a raw white egg and a writing tool called a kistka that applies melted wax (dye colors don’t adhere to the wax-covered areas). Then the egg is dipped in the lightest dye, usually yellow, and the waxed areas remain white. The egg is drawn on again with wax, covering anything that should remain yellow, and dipped in the next color. This process is repeated, lightest to darkest, ending with the final dye bath, usually black or deep blue. Finally, the wax is removed, revealing the design. Each egg can take three to 10 hours to complete.

Called pysanky (from the word pysaty, meaning “to write”), the eggs, for centuries now, have customarily been given to friends and family to ensure health, luck and prosperity. Historically, pysanky were displayed in homes and sometimes carried as talismans.

For some, the eggs symbolize renewal. For Mary Ellen, they represent the birth of her second son. “It’s a very spiritual thing for me to sit down and create these,” she said. And, 40 years later, good fortune is still passed on: “Almost every time we have a visitor or guest, and they’re on their way out, I tell them, ‘Take an egg with you.’ ”

Ashley Clary-Carpenter, field editor

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