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Author: Subject: Decorative Eggs: A Feast for the Eye
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[*] posted on 10-8-2015 at 11:19 PM
Decorative Eggs: A Feast for the Eye

This article by Daphne Dalton Garrett first appeared in Deutsche Welt - U. S. in March 1983.

Daphne Garrett, now deceased was an active member of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, and is the designer of the Egg Display in the Wendish Heritage Museum. The Museum is open from 1-5 p.m. each day except Mondays, Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving and is located at Serbin, 5 miles south of Giddings in central Texas.

Especially at Easter time, our thoughts turn to eggs - not the bright white refrigerator variety, or the pale brown of the farm chicken coop, but the brilliantly colored, fanciful variety. The egg, an ancient symbol for the source of life, is found as an artistic expression in many materials. Semi­precious stones are cut and polished in egg shape by German craftsmen, intricately designed cloisonne eggs are created by oriental artists, and jeweled eggs were created by the famous artisan Faberge for the Czar of Russia. Although these museum and collector's items are fascinating and beautiful; perhaps the most interesting treatment is the decoration of natural eggs by folk artists.

The decoration of real eggs can be traced back to ancient China, Egypt and Persia, and examples have also been excavated in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Today, several ethnic cultures maintain their traditional folk-art of coloring eggs, and each tradition demonstrates a unique approach. Eggs which have painted designs are typical of the Germans, whereas the Slavic peoples are famous for their use of the wax technique. In the wax process, which is related to the Batik process in the textile industry, the design is applied with wax and the egg is then dipped into dye. The wax protects the surface and when it is removed, a design is revealed in the natural color of the egg. Multi-colored eggs are achieved one color at a time, by applying more protective wax with each additional coloring.

Although the general principal of the wax technique is shared by several cultures, the actual method of applying the wax varies from one to another. The elaborate eggs of the Ukranians are designed with a kistka, a small instrument which permits very thin lines of wax to be drawn on the egg. Many Yugoslavian and Polish eggs are decorated in a similar manner. Another instrument which is commonly used by Slavic groups is a pin head, which produces a short tapered line. A most distinctive and more difficult method is the application of the wax with a feather tip which has been cut into various shape. Tiny bits of hot wax are applied in the shape of circles, diamonds, triangles, etc. and repeated use of one shape creates an overall geometric design, with combinations and possibilities so unlimited that no two eggs need be the same.

This unique feather method is one of three traditional techniques used by the Wends of Lusatia. The Wends are descendants of a Slavic tribe which once occupied Northern Germany, but who settled along the Spree River southeast of Berlin in the 10th century, and are now citizens of the Deutsche Democratische Republic. Today these Wends, officially called Sorbs, are enjoying a renaissance of their folk arts, and the decoration of eggs has again become a popular pastime. Contests are held among both adult and youth groups, and the work of highly skilled decorators is exhibited by museums.

In 1854 a group of more than 500 Wends immigrated to Texas and thus the Wendish tradition is also found in Texas. Among the families who still decorate eggs are Evelyn Kasper and her mother, Alice Fritsche Noack of Warda, Texas. Mrs. Noack learned from her parents and grandparents, and has in turn taught her daughter the traditional family patterns. Each August Mrs. Kasper demonstrates the wax technique in the Wendish Heritage Society booth at the Institute of Texan Cultures Folklife Festival. Eggs decorated by these two ladies and others are exhibited, along with eggs from Lusatia, at the Wendish Museum at Serbin, Texas.

In the Museum one may also see Lusatian examples of the Scratch Technique, in which the design is scratched onto a previously colored egg, and the Acid Technique, in which the design is etched on a colored egg. These methods of creating the design permit more delicate lines to be drawn, and the design is likely to be stylized flowers or an intricate lacelike pattern; however, the Texas Wends have maintained only the wax technique. Wax applied with the pin head produces curved tapered lines which are often arranged to represent the sun's rays, flowers, or vines, and is much easier to do than the feather application. The strictly geometrical designs produced with the feather tip in Lusatia, have been adapted by the Texas Wends so that the completed patterns represent a known object, such as a fan or flower. The Wendish eggs use neither the mystical symbols nor the strong coloring found in the Ukranian eggs.

It is difficult to compare the beauty of one egg to another, and even more difficult to compare the various traditions, for whether they are called "bunte Ostereier'', "psanky'', or "molowane jejka", decorated eggs are indeed a delight to the eye.
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