Ola Kryway

1998 Florida Folk Heritage Award

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Ola Kryway (Titusville) decorates Easter eggs using the Ukrainian method known as pysanky. Pysanky is a wax-resist technique, in which a tool called a kystka is used to apply melted beeswax to an egg. A subsequent series of dye baths results in a detailed design. Kryway has been practicing this art for over 60 years. She grew up in Montreal in a Ukrainian immigrant family that actively preserved their ancestral culture. As a young girl, she learned the technique and symbols of pysanky from her mother, sisters, aunts and cousins, who all worked together for several weeks before Easter to decorate eggs. On Easter morning the eggs were blessed in church and then given to friends as love offerings.

Many genres of Ukrainian folk culture enrich the pysanky tradition. According to a Ukrainian tale, Mary brought eggs with her when she attempted to see Pontius Pilate to ask him to spare Jesus’ life. When denied admittance by Pilate’s guards, she began to cry. As her tears fell on the eggs, they turned brilliant colors. The colored eggs rolled to the end of the earth, where an evil dragon was held in chains. Traditional belief maintains that each decorated Easter egg adds a link to the chains that keep evil in check.  The psyanky tradition is also highly symbolic: the egg itself is a sign of rebirth or resurrection. Designs incorporate a variety of symbolic motifs, some dating from pre-Christian times. For example, a ribbon or belt round the egg means eternity; as the messenger of light, the rooster is a symbol of Christ; and a butterfly signifies resurrection.

Kryway begins the pysanky process by drawing a design on an egg with a pencil. Next she applies beeswax to the area that is to remain white and dyes the egg with the lightest color. When the first color is dry, she adds wax to part of this colored area and dyes the egg with another color. This sequence is repeated with increasingly darker colors, until the design is complete. After the final dye bath, she pierces both ends of the egg with a pin or needle and blows out the contents. To remove the wax, she places the egg in her kitchen oven for a few minutes at 200 degrees. Kryway says that removing the egg from the oven is the most exciting part, since it reveals the results of her work. “An egg is organic,” she explains. “You never can tell how it’s going to take colors.” After the egg cools, she applies a coat of varnish or shellac with her hands.

Participating in exhibits and giving workshops provides Kryway with opportunities to meet Floridians of Ukrainian descent and share her heritage with others.  In addition to receiving the 1998 Florida Folk Heritage Award, Kryway was also a master artist in the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program.