Decorated Eggs

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.

For more information, see From Shell to Symbol: Art of the Ethnic Easter Egg at The Wisconsin Historical Museum

Czech Easter egg (kraslice), Early twentieth century
Gift of Anna L. Kust (1950.2515)

An unknown maker embellished this undyed egg 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.

Hungarian Easter egg, c. 1955
Gift of Joseph Jastrow (1957.43)

Although the dyes have faded with age, this egg's 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.

Polish eggshell ornaments, 1955-1956
Gift of Mrs. J.J. Gostomski (1956.4627, 1956.4629)

These are blown eggs on which traditional Polish paper cut designs ( wycinanki ) are pasted. The ornaments, used as tabletop decorations during the Easter season, were made in either Poland or Milwaukee.

Ukrainian Easter eggs (pysanky) by Betty Pisio Christenson, 1983-1990
(1996.118.329, 1996.118.345)

Betty Pisio Christenson of Suring, Wisconsin dyed these eggs 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 these two 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.

Decorating Ukrainian Easter eggs, 1986
Photo by James P. Leary

Betty Pisio Christenson demonstrating the art of pysanky
while dyeing an egg using a wax-resist technique and shellac, 1986
Photo by James P. Leary