Person to Person: Communicating Identity
Through Wisconsin Folk Objects
CREATING PUBLIC DISPLAYS
Ethnic and religious identities are often intertwined and are expressed in folk objects made for religious holidays and other special occasions.
This krumkake iron was used over an open fire to make waffle-like cookies. The insides of the jaws are molded with an intricate design, which appears on the cookie as raised decorations depicting a lion, a Bible verse, and the twelve apostles. This is quite different from the more common scrolls, leaves, and flowers traditionally seen on krumkake irons. According to the donor, the iron belonged to Mrs. C.A. Morterud of Bloomingdale, Wisconsin and was brought by her from Norway around 1885. A local blacksmith fabricated and attached the handles. Given the weight of the iron and the elaborate design, this object was a significant family heirloom deemed worthy to transport to America.
Norwegian Krumkake Iron, 1767
Gift of Mrs. Albert Mockrud.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1948.714
Pysanky Wax Resist Egg Dyeing, 1986
Betty Pisio Christenson demonstrating the art of Pysanky while dyeing an egg using a wax-resist technique and shellac. Source: James P. Leary
Polish Eggshell Ornament, 1955-1956
Gift of Mrs. J.J. Gostomski.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1956.4629
Decorated eggs originated in ancient times. For thousands of years, eggs have been regarded as symbols of spring, new life, and renewal. Throughout much of Europe, eggs were decorated and given as gifts in festivals celebrating the return of the sun. With the onset of Christianity, Easter celebrations absorbed these ancient customs.
An unknown maker embellished the undyed Czech Easter egg (kraslice) featured here by applying decorative beeswax elements using the "drop-pull" method, one of the oldest and most traditional Czech techniques. The white of the shell represents purity and the (now darkened) red of the dots and drawn-out drops represents good health or wealth. The dots and drops are two standard Czech design elements.
Although the dyes have faded with age, the 1955 Hungarian Easter egg designs have symbolic value. The cross motif within the diamond represents a source of strength. The triangular shapes repeated above and below represent the Christian symbol of the Holy Trinity. This egg was decorated in Hungary and later brought to Wisconsin.
The Polish eggshell ornaments from 1955-1956 are blown eggs on which traditional Polish paper cut designs, or Wycinanki, are pasted. The ornaments, used as tabletop decorations during the Easter season, were made in either Poland or Milwaukee.
Betty Pisio Christenson of Suring, Wisconsin, dyed the Ukrainian Easter eggs (Pysanky) in intricate, decorative designs, following a Ukrainian folk tradition. Christenson taught herself the technique for making Pysanky after seeing examples while visiting relatives in Canada in 1975.
Pysanky have a political as well as a religious meaning. The decorated eggs symbolize the survival and rebirth of Ukrainian culture among people who left the Ukraine for America during the period of Soviet suppression of ethnic religious expressions. The eggs evolved from a deeply symbolic expression of Easter known in the Ukrainian Orthodox tradition to an outward symbol of national identity for a broader audience.
One of the two Ukrainian Easter eggs incorporates numerous triangle designs representing the Christian Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This egg also features crosshatching motifs that symbolize fishing nets, as Jesus Christ was known as the "fisher of men." The vibrant depiction of a poppy on the other egg represents the Ukrainian homeland. The poppy is a familiar and beloved symbol of joy and beauty for the Ukrainian people.
For more information, see the related online exhibit From Shell to Symbol: Art of the Ethnic Easter Egg.
Ukrainian Easter Egg (Pysanky) by Betty Pisio Christenson, 1983-1990
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1996.118.329
Hungarian Easter Egg, ca. 1955
Gift of Joseph Jastrow.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1957.43
Polish Eggshell Ornament, 1955-1956Gift of Mrs. J.J. Gostomski.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1956.4627
Czech Easter Egg (Kraslice), early 20th century
Gift of Anna L. Kust.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1950.2515