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December 3, 2021

Egg painting, between tradition and business

Starting on Tuesday of the Holy Week, but especially on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, in all homesteads in the historical province of Bukovina (northern Romania), in keeping with the local tradition, people paint eggs for Easter, the greatest festival of the Orthodox world.
The custom has been observed for hundreds of years, dating from time immemorial, maybe from thousands of years, the egg being a pre-Christian symbol. Being taken up by Christians, the custom of painting eggs, initially red, symbolizes the blood shed by Christ from the cross where he was crucified for the redemption of the world, but also the miracle of His resurrection, which has become the defining element of Easter. In recent years, the century-old custom has become for many people in the Bukovina villages a business, for economic reasons, because of the lack of other sources of income. In some cases egg painting has even become a prosperous business. This is the favourite occupation of people living in the villages of Paltinu, Moldovita, Vatra Moldovitei, Ciumarna, Izvoarele Sucevei, Brodina, Ulma, Moldova Sulita, Fundu Moldovei, Poiana Stampei. Most people in this area are of Hutsulian ethnicity, even if they did not declare it officially, and it is well known that the technique of egg painting is of Ukrainian origin.
Painted eggs came to be the fame of Bukovina and people who really love this tradition want to preserve it, to hand it over to the younger generation and to promote it with love and local pride, ‘run the risk’ of continuing the technique of this craft. Thus, there are still craftsmen, women as a rule, who ‘have the courage,’ in a society where the market economy rules supreme, to create ‘old-time eggs,’ which are considered some goods that sell with difficulty.
The technique that is used when painting eggs is to preserve the background colour and consists in drawing something on the egg, with the help of the melted beeswax, and dipping it successively in yellow, red and black colour baths. The tool that is used is called chisita and it is a small stick with a tiny brass funnel at one end, through which there is a pig hair. After the egg was ‘written’ and coloured, the coats of beeswax are removed wish the help of a slightly warm cloth, thus revealing the drawing.
The most common motifs used in egg painting are the Easter Cross, the Easter flower, the shepherd’s path or the lost way, the priest’s belt and bags, the little fir tree, the oak tree leaf, the bee, the fish, the ram’s horns, the shepherd’s staff, the reel, the cock’s comb, the share of the plough, etc.
In the past the colours were obtained from plants, by boiling their leaves, flowers, bark or stem. Red was obtained from the peel of the sweet apple, from the leaves and blossoms of the sweet apple, from the dyer’s adder, marjoram flowers, the bark of the wild rose. Blue was made from violets, green from nut tree leaves, bark of the alder tree, bark and buds of the crab apple tree, sun flower, and yellow from onion skin, bark of the crab apple three, bark of the private cabbage wood, bark of the bird cherry tree. Black could be obtained from the green rind of the nuts or the bark and fruits of the alder tree. The black colour on eggs symbolizes the pain of Jesus who was crucified. Nowadays they do no longer paint black eggs, it is sometimes only used as a background.
‘Work’ on the painted eggs began somewhere in the middle of Lent. As a rule, they were not eaten, after being blessed on the Resurrection night, they were given as presents to the relatives and the beloved ones and preserved close to the icons till the next Easter.
At Vama, Letitia Orschinschi managed to change the tradition of egg painting into a genuine business. She has turned her house into a museum in the past 15 years. Letitia Orschinschi, who is a textile engineer by profession and has been living in Germany for a few years, started painting eggs in the simple painting technique used in the Dorna area and then specialized in painting them traditionally, with the chisita, at Moldovita, where there is an important hub of painting eggs.
In the collection of the museum at Vama there are about four thousand eggs from 80 countries, from all continents, decorated and painted in tens of different techniques from one country to another. In the museum at Vama one can see shoed eggs from Hungary, perforated eggs from the Czech Republic, eggs with feathers, laces or hair applied on them from Switzerland, enamelled eggs from China, but also eggs painted in watercolours or Bukovina traditional eggs, all of them being collected in time by Letitia from relevant festivals and fairs, but not only from such events, and permanently enriched the excellent collection of the museum.
‘It is a business. We do no longer think if it is done from the bottom of one’s heart. It is a great satisfaction when you see that people come and admire. Foreigners are delighted when discovering the traditions of the region and this craft and Romanians are delighted when seeing that it is not only in Romania that people decorate eggs. They see this international collection and many people are astonished as they did not know, they did not think that eggs can be decorated in so many kinds and techniques,’ said Catalina Orschinschi, Letitia Orschinschi’s sister.

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