DATELINE NEW YORK: In praise of pysanky
by Helen Smindak
In ancient times, they were considered talismans and perceived as the source of life, the sun and the universe. Now viewed as beautiful folk art objects, Ukrainian pysanky still hold people in thrall with their radiant hues and exquisite ornamentation. Small wonder, then, that the Easter season has brought a parade of pysanka exhibits, workshops and how-to demonstrations in New York and around the nation.
This year, the White House will have a Ukrainian Easter egg to show off; it will appear in an exhibit of Easter eggs from 49 states during the first week of April. The work of Lynn Spear of Franklin Township, N.J., it represents the state of New Jersey and bears four motifs: the sun and seashore, birds, the observatory at Cape May, and an orchard symbolic of New Jersey's fruit and flowers. Ms. Spear, who is of Ukrainian ancestry, has been decorating Easter eggs pysanka-style for 25 years.
New Yorkers and out-of-town visitors have been flocking to The Ukrainian Museum in recent weeks to take in egg-decorating workshops and demonstrations and an impressive exhibit of over 450 pysanky. The exhibit of decorated eggs, featuring designs typical of various regions of Ukraine, is augmented by reverse glass paintings by Yaroslava Surmach Mills depicting Easter scenes in old Ukraine and a collection of embroidered rushnyky (ritual cloths) bearing symbols similar to those on the Easter eggs.
A display of eggs in various stages of decoration illustrates the step-by-step process of decorating pysanky using the wax-resist or batik method, a technique akin to the Indonesian method of hand-printing textiles by coating with wax the parts not meant to be dyed.
Viewers spend an hour or more examining pysanky covered with delicate, fine-line motifs, studying illustrations and meanings of symbols, and viewing a video of Slavko Nowytski's award-winning film "Pysanka" before moving on to browse in the gift shop. The exhibit will continue through the end of April, in line with the Ukrainian church calendar, which sets Easter Sunday on April 27 this year.
Egg-decorating workshops and demonstrations, held almost daily at the museum in past weeks, have been led by such experienced decorators as Sofia Zielyk and Anna Gbur, museum director Maria Shust and staffers Christina Pevny and Daria Bajko. A newcomer to the ranks of museum artisans was Emily Robbins, who told Dateline, "it was really neat to go back and teach where I learned the craft." The spring schedule included a bead-stringing workshop, with Tania Keis as instructor.
Ms. Robbins, who is editor of The Green Book, the New York City government's official directory, gave instruction in Ukrainian egg decorating for a group of associates during a lunch-hour seminar at the New York City Department of Social Services. This weekend she is demonstrating the art at an outdoor Easter show near the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.
Lida Prokop, representing the Ukrainian Institute of America, appeared on NBC-TV's "Weekend in New York" show on March 23 with a collection of pysanky crafted by Ms. Zielyk, including an ostrich egg with Ukrainian motifs that took 40 hours to complete. Ms. Prokop presented a concise explanation of the steps involved in creating a Ukrainian pysanka.
Stephanie Charczenko, the institute's executive director, who arranged the television interview as well as a story in the Daily News, informed Dateline that the institute was to hold a pysanka demonstration on March 26 for the general public and students of Abraham Lincoln School, with Ms. Zielyk as instructor.
One of New York's premier pysanka craftspeople, Mrs. Mills taught the sills of decorating eggs to 58 sixth-graders on March 14. Mrs. Mills, an artist and author who is currently teaching Celtic illumination and icon painting in Rockland County and completing the decoration of stained-glass windows in St. Demetrius Church in Toronto, directed the students in a workshop at St. John the Baptist Academy in Hillcrest, N.J. She also gave a pysanka-decorating demonstration at the Rockland Center for the Arts in West Nyack, N.Y.
Ukrainian pysanky continue to find favor everywhere - a chapter on Ukrainian Easter eggs is included in a book recently printed by Sterling Publishing of New York. The title of the book is "Decorating Eggs: Exquisite Designs with Wax and Dye." The author is Jane Pollack, a non-Ukrainian.
In other spheres
Our artists and performers have continued their appearances on stage and in art galleries. Here's an update on some of them.
The dance world
Stephanie Godino Kulyk, who has been performing for years with the New York City Opera's ballet ensemble, is appearing through April 26 at Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," a tapestry of Gregorian chant, medieval parable and brilliantly choreographed movement. The new NYCO production is being presented in a double bill with Kurt Weill's "Seven Deadly Sins." Ms. Kulyk, who directs the choir at St. Vladimir's Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Manhattan, is the choreographer for a production of Jules Massenet's opera "Thais," which will be performed by the South Regional Opera Company of New Jersey and the Western New Jersey Symphony in Montclair, N.J., on April 19.
The Tamburitzans of Duquesne University, currently touring the U.S. with a special 60th anniversary program, include nine performers of Ukrainian ancestry in this season's roster. They are Laryssa Halawy, Andreja Kalyta, Mark Kalyta, Lydia Kurylas, Roman Lewkowicz, Andrei Pidkivka and Taras Posewa, all American-born, and Alexandre Fedoriouk and Peter Osyf, who came here from Ukraine two years ago. An ensemble of 35 accomplished student-performers, the Tamburitzans brought a spectacular show of folk music and dance to New York's Fashion Institute of Technology last fall. The program, which includes a Transcarpathian wedding dance and virtuoso improvisations on Ukrainian melodies performed on the shepherd's flute and tsymbaly, will be seen in more than 60 cities before the group winds up its season in California on May 25.
The art scene
Catch 22 Gallery, located on St. Mark's Place in the East Village, exhibited a collection of 40 pieces of work by the Lemko primitive artist Epiphanii (Nikifor) Dvorniak. The gallery, which also showed photographs of 100 other works said to be available and certified authentic, referred to Nikifor as a "Polish visionary painter" in its publicity releases. Although the exhibit was to run until April, it was wrapped up in January because of protests from members of the Ukrainian community. The artist grew up in poverty, the illegitimate son of a deaf-and-mute woman. Born in the Lemko-area resort town of Krynica (Krynytsia) in southeast Poland, his grave is located in a cemetery there. Ukrainians consider him to be one of their own. Self-taught, he became known for his luminous watercolors and drawings of resort buildings, towns, mountain landscapes and wooden Orthodox churches, which were eventually exhibited in Warsaw and Paris. His work is displayed in two museums in Poland, the Gothic House in Nowy Sacz and the Nikifor Museum in Krynica. The Ukrainian Museum in New York, which owns 50 Nikifor pieces, held an exhibit of its Nikifor collection in 1978.
Landscapes of Bessarabia, southern Ukraine, Boykivschyna and Hutsulschyna, painted by Lviv-born artist Valerij Hnatenko before his untimely death at the age of 40, were exhibited at the Atelier 14 Gallery in Manhattan. Seriously ill for 10 years, Mr. Hnatenko repeatedly asked the Soviet government for permission to travel to the U.S. for medical assistance, to no avail. The exhibit, comprising oil paintings and ink and pencil drawings, was organized by sculptor Juan Puntes, the gallery curator, the artist's widow, Stephania, and his son, Nazar. Poetry readings and music performances were held at the gallery during the exhibit's 10-day run.
Stephanie Hnizdovsky of New York reports that an exhibit of 25 woodcuts created by her late husband, artist Jacques Hnizdovsky, is presently touring Ukraine. Sponsored by America House in Kyiv, the exhibit has been on the view in Kyiv, Lviv, Ternopil, Chernivtsi and Kamianets-Podilskyi. Following a showing in Ivano-Frankivsk, the woodcuts will be displayed in galleries in eastern Ukraine.
The musical milieu
Pianist Thomas Hrynkiw, back from a concert tour in Mexico, is happy with the great reviews he received after his eight concerts there. He is now preparing to conduct a workshop dealing with performance anxiety, to be held in April at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, and is looking forward to doing a program for public radio and summer appearances at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Hunter, N.Y., and the Newport Music Festival in Newport, R.I.. Mr. Hrynkiw, the director of the Ukrainian Music Institute's New York Branch, teaches piano and voice at Wilkes University coaches students at the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Center, and is the artistic advisor and vocal director for the Newport Festival. The pianist has just recorded his second CD with Met Opera star Paul Plishka and his second solo disc for the Yamaha Disklavier, titled "Russian Romantics."
The vocal view
The New York City Opera's spring season has brought soprano Oksana Krovytska back to the stage of the New York State Theater, where she is singing in Mozart's marvelously funny and exciting "Don Giovanni." Ms. Krovytska, in the role of Donna Elvira, a noble lady of Burgos, will take her final curtain calls in this season's "Giovanni" on April 2. Later in the month, she will appear as the young slave girl Liu in "Turandot," the vibrant opera that many consider to be Puccini's consummate achievement.
At the Metropolitan Opera, basses Paul Plishka and Vladimir Ognovenko have been alternating this past month in the same role - that of Prince Gremin in Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin." Messrs. Plishka and Ognovenko will continue their performances in "Onegin" until April 19.
Still to be heard are bass Sergei Koptchak, who's scheduled to perform in Dvorak's "Rusalka" on May 3 (matinee), 7 and 10. Lviv-born mezzo-soprano Susanna Poretsky and American-born bass Stefan Szkafarowsky are ready to cover roles in the new production of Giordano's "Fedora" on April 22 and 26, and may perform on the Met stage this season, if fate so rules.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, March 30, 1997, No. 13, Vol. LXV
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