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Ukrainian hand-painted eggs

Deep religious connotations inspire artist

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Ukrainian hand-painted eggs

Delicately hand-painted chicken, goose and ostrich eggs by Marussa Mahony of Manteca bear deeply religious meanings. She is pictured holding an ostrich egg while she also displays an icon of Chris...

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin


POSTED November 5, 2009 3:01 a.m.
Marussa Mahony is an artist in her own right – with an egg in the palm of one hand and a stylus in the other and slowly turning her oval canvas – she carries on an ancient tradition dating back hundreds of years to the Ukraine.  

Archeologists have actually found similar eggs dating back to 1300 B.C. predating the “Psysanky” Ukrainian egg first produced in early religious communities back in the 10th century.

Profound meanings are connected to the eggs including the Resurrection, a promise of eternal life, abundance, protection and affection.    

The Manteca artist presented her collection to Manteca Rotarians at their noon meeting last Thursday that included hand-painted icon portraits of Christ and of St. Michael the Archangel.   She was first introduced to the craft when at 18 she entered a German monastery.

She remembered the mother superior requiring them to turn out 40 eggs in one day during Lent, where she and others would paint the egg in their right hand – slowing turning it to the point of a stylus instrument while meditating the mysteries of the Rosary for four hours at a time.  Today she uses inspirational music as a background for her religious artwork.

The finished eggs would be sent to other monasteries, to Rome and to charities, she said. As she paints her eggs now at her Manteca home there is definitely a religious connection more than just the art work itself.

Husband Paul said they can only buy the eggs from area chicken ranches for use in the art work.  Those eggs will accept the dyes much more effectively than eggs that have been commercially processed and available in local markets.

It is important to her that she lights a small candle signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit and she uses holy water to spray the eggs and utensils she is about to use.  A hand-made fabric rosary she crafted in the monastery is also present on her work table.

The eggs must have the yolk and egg white blown out through a puncture in its base before they are  colored in a step-by-step process and then inscribed with meaningful symbols.

Chicken egg work took 12 hours a day over three weeks
The ostrich egg she is holding in the photograph took the skill of several nuns working 12 hours a day for three weeks.  The smaller chicken eggs demanded about 12 hours of work over three days, she added.  Those many hours are filled with serious religious meditation in prayer for peace and health of others.

The icon of St. Michael was a seven-year effort using egg whites and vinegar as the paint medium to ensure a long life to the art work.

Since the 10th century it has been a tradition for the religiously inscribed eggs to be shared during the Lenten Season with friends and family and even the parish priest.  Mahony explained that the sacred art relates to all races and religions as it is central to their beliefs and to the living and the dying.

Certain eggs are created only during Lent, because they are so sacred, she said.

As for Rotary, Mahony thanked club member Norman Knodt for inviting her to speak and presented him with one of her eggs.

Icons come in four categories, she went on to say: Christ, The Mother of God, saints and feast days.

“They (the icons) are not realistic paintings – some of them look almost cartoonish,” she said.  The reason is that they are symbols that reveal spiritual truth, which means God is present in human life.

When dealing with icons there are no shadows, because heaven’s light shines upon them, she added.

In further explaining the color scheme of icons, she said, the picture of Christ shows him wearing a blue cloak over a red robe.  The red represents the royalty of the deity and the blue represents the humanity he took on becoming man.

The Icon of the Virgin Mary is just the opposite where she wears a blue robe – showing humanity – but a red robe of royalty she acquired when she became the mother of Christ.

The Pysanky Ukrainian eggs carry definite messages with their inscriptions and with their colors.  

Flowers seen on the eggs represent love, peace, caring and good will while wheat signifies good health, and good harvest.  Trees seen on the eggs also relate to long life, strength and good health.  Evergreens signify eternal youth and birds carry the message of fertility, spring, and fulfilling wishes.  Fish represents the early symbol of Christianity.

Further inscriptions such as the circle provide protection against the unknown, and ribbons represent everlasting life.  The cross relates to Christ’s resurrection, success and the sun – good fortune.  Triangles are associated with family – the Holy Trinity – father, mother and child.

The tears of Mary at the crucifixion of Christ are shown as dots on the eggs.  A rake defines prosperity, a ladder signifies ascent to heaven, and nets represents Christ as The Fisher of Men.

Colors have special meaning
Different colors on the eggs also have important meanings in the design of the art work.  White is for purity and yellow is not only for wisdom but also the moon and the stars.  Orange:  ambition, power and spirituality.  Red is for happiness, hope and love and green is for the spring and for the rebirth of nature.

The color blue is for good health, sky and magic.  Brown represents earth and generosity.  Purple is for faith, trust and royalty and black signifies the darkest time before dawn – a time to repent.  Black and white is for remembrance and pink signifies success and contentment.

Mahony is scheduled to be the featured speaker for the Manteca Mural Society at its quarterly meeting Wednesday night, Nov. 11, at 6:30 p.m. at the Manteca Senior Center on Cherry Lane.

Further information is available by calling Gayl Wilson at 483-8187.
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