Treasures of the Library

Pysanky (Ukrainian Eggs)

Our Rare Book Room is lucky to count in its collection a set of exquisite eggs from the traditional Ukrainian cultural ritual known as pysanky. While pysanky are usually made using real eggs, this set was fashioned from wood.

These eggs and plates were donated to the Library of Parliament in 1962 by William Murray Smith, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg North. He wanted to recognize the contribution of people of Ukrainian origin to Canadian culture. Regrettably, we do not know the name of the individual who created them.

The word pysanky (plural of pysanka) is derived from the Ukrainian verb to “write” or “inscribe.” In fact, the designs are not painted on the eggs but created using beeswax and the batik method. The eggs are dipped repeatedly in different coloured dyes. Between each dipping, beeswax is painstakingly applied so that the dye colours only the exposed parts of the shell.

The history of pysanky eggs goes back thousands of years. In ancient times they were thought to have talismanic powers, for example, of prosperity, long life or protection. The advent of Christianity introduced new interpretations to the older symbols. Today, contemporary artisans continue to use ancient symbolism in the designs, but pysanky ultimately changed from being talismanic objects to art objects.

Canada is home to the world’s largest pysanka, in Vegreville, Alberta. The aluminum sculpture is 39.5 metres tall, has 524 star patterns and took over 12,000 hours to complete in 1975.

Details :

  • This set includes 12 wooden hand-carved eggs and 2 wooden hand-carved plates.
  • These items incorporate many geometric motifs including rhombs (diamond shapes symbolizing plowed fields) and triangles (symbolizing the Holy Trinity).
Pysanky Eggs
Set of Carved Pysanky
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Set of Carved Pysanky in Plate
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Set of Carved Pysanky