Calgary artist connects with Ukrainian culture by making dozens of intricate Easter eggs

A Calgary artist is busy passing down a centuries-old tradition for Easter this year. Cathy Reitz, a pysanka artist, creates intricate Ukrainian easter eggs.

Cathy Reitz, a pysanka artist, creates intricate designs on the fragile shells

Why this Calgarian became a pysanka artist

2 years ago
Duration 4:53
For Cathy Reitz, it's all about honouring her family and traditions when it comes to making elaborate Ukrainian Easter eggs.

A Calgary artist is busy passing down a centuries-old tradition for Easter this year.

Cathy Reitz says pysanka — from the Ukrainian verb pysanty, meaning "to write" — is the practice of creating intricate Ukrainian Easter eggs.

WATCH | See how much detail goes into each egg in the video above

"My great aunt taught me … she was taught by her mother before, and her mother before that," she said.

"It was such a deep, meaningful tradition to do at Easter."

Now, she makes almost 50 pysanky eggs every year, with each requiring hours of creativity and patience.

Reitz says the practice takes a lot of patience. (James Young/CBC)

"To be able to do it here in Calgary is really special, and it's really meaningful. And I'm just one of quite a few in Calgary that are actively keeping up the tradition of pysanka writing."

How it works

The eggs may look like a fun Easter craft, but in Reitz's case it can take five to nine hours to complete one egg.

"You can see all the hard work, all the hours you put in, and see how it translated," she said.

First, she starts by ensuring all the insides of the egg are completely removed.

"It is very heartbreaking after spending hours on a design, when you go to hollow it out afterwards, taking the insides out, and it cracks on you and you're left with a mess," she said.

The artist makes almost 50 each year for both Easter and Ukrainian Easter. (James Young/CBC)

Once the shells are treated and each egg is blown out, she's ready to start drawing; however, the artist warns a lot of patience is needed during this process.

"In between each layer, you then have a new colour. And you can't start right away. You need to wait for the process, for the colour to dry, before you're able to keep on writing."

While most designs follow Ukraine tradition, Reitz says each symbol has a meaning and sometimes a special wish.

"I have one that I'm doing right now that is for a friend who lost her house before Christmas in a house fire. And it is filled with symbolism of protection, new beginnings, good wishes for the future," she explained.

History of Ukrainian Easter

Ukrainians around the world still gather to write pysanky during Orthodox Easter, which will land on May 2 this year.

But in pre-modern times, the eggs served a more functional purpose: They were thought to have magical properties.

Despite most egg designs following the traditional Ukrainian theme, Reitz says she also creates other motifs. (James Young/CBC)

Some were kept inside the home to guard against storms and fire; some were placed with animals to promote fertility; and a few were saved to place in the coffins of loved ones who died during the year.

It was traditionally done every Easter by the women in Ukrainian families and was not supposed to be attempted by children.

However, the worldwide practice now has a dedicated museum to the art of pysanka in the Ukrainian city of Kolomyia. 

Reitz says she has sent one of her own eggs to be featured at the museum.

"Now that I've been able to send one, I actually truly feel like a piece of me is out there to help represent my family, represent their history and have a little piece of my art out there," she said.

With files from James Young and Althea Manasan.