The ancient Ukrainian art of Pysanky will return to German American Heritage Center in Davenport on Saturday for a workshop, April 1 at Moline Public Library for a demonstration, and April 2 back at GAHC for a craft market.

The name comes from the Ukrainian verb “pysaty,” meaning “to write.” The art is popular during the Easter season, as it is an intricately detailed form of egg decorating. Pysanky workshops at GAHC (712 W. 2nd St., Davenport) have been quite popular since they began in 2012, and this is the first one held since 2019 (due to COVID), executive director Kelly Lao said recently.

Kelly Lao is executive director of German American Heritage Center, Davenport.

“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “People want to do something together. It’s not as fun to craft by yourself. And it’s fun to learn a new skill.”

“I think the process is so cool,” Lao said. “It’s so delicate. It’s a neat process. Pysanky eggs, you can put them on a little stand, and they’re gorgeous all year round.”

The GAHC workshop (Saturday from noon to 3 p.m., registration is full) will be led by Crystal Potthoff of Peoria. She has assisted in past years, but this is the first one she will lead.

“During the wax application process, I am praying, meditating or listening,” she wrote for her website. “Writing pysanky is a spiritual and peaceful activity that keeps me focused on what is most important in my life — God, family and friends.”

“My passion is pysanky — I love this prayerful and meditative art,” Potthoff wrote. “There is something so spiritual and satisfying about turning an egg into a work of art.”

Crystal Potthoff of Peoria has been doing and teaching pysanky since 2005.

In 2005, she was introduced to pysanky — a wax batik process (which uses flame to write) on egg shells. Her first teacher was Shelly Janikowski, who led the GAHC workshops in past years. She lives in Davenport and her husband was pastor at Potthoff’s church in Brimfield, Ill.

“You’re applying layers of wax and dye to the egg,” Potthoff said. “Technically, you’re writing symbols on the egg that have meaning. You’re not coloring the egg, you’re writing. So you’re writing symbols on the egg that have meaning, and then you dye the egg in different colors. And then when you get all of your colors on there that you want, we call it the final color.”

“Then you melt the wax off and then you have your egg,” she said. Pysanky was always handed down from generation to generation and when Stalin took over Ukraine, he tried to obliterate all their cultural traditions.

“Fortunately, there were a lot of people in the diaspora that kept it alive. And so the idea is really touching to pass along that heritage,” Potthoff said.. “I’m not Ukrainian, but to pass along this artform — the idea as long as you’re putting the wax on, you’re praying. So you’re thinking about the symbol that’s on your egg. And so it becomes very meditative.”

Eggs decorated by Potthoff.

The egg transformation process is profoundly reflective of Christ’s resurrection on Easter.

“Traditionally, this is the time of the year, they’re done during Lent and then they give them to people at Easter,” Potthoff said. “The reveal process, when you’re taking the wax off, is really symbolic of Christ being in the tomb and then rising and being glorious.”

“I’m excited to be able to teach there and I’m also excited to sell because I’ve been making eggs,” she said of returning for the spring Eiemarkt on Saturday, April 2. “So I have quite an inventory of them; I am donating a portion of my sales to Ukrainian humanitarian efforts.”

Potthoff will do a workshop in Brimfield on March 28, and that sold out within minutes, and she’s doing another there on April 4.

Eggs decorated by Potthoff.

 “I’ve seen a big interest and I sell my eggs on Etsy, so I have had more sales and I’d like to think it’s because everyone’s recognizing my fabulous art, but I know it’s also what’s happening in Ukraine, which is why I felt like I need to give back part of this,” she said.

The current war in Ukraine has made the egg art all the more meaningful.

“It makes me appreciate this art even more,” Potthoff said. “I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent on it the last two weeks. I’ve been very busy teaching the classes.”

Moline and global Pysanky for Ukraine Day

The Moline Public Library is having her do a Pysanky demonstration on April 1 from noon to 1 p.m. People attending will not decorate their own eggs. You can register for that HERE.

“I love to talk about it. I just love to talk about Pysanky because it’s just been such a blessing in my life — to have something that I can sit, pray and end up with a beautiful egg,” Potthoff said.

An egg decorated by Potthoff.

April 1 is also Pysanky for Ukraine Day around the world, where artists create the eggs, she said.

Saturday’s GAHC workshop will have 11 in attendance, from noon to 3 p.m.

“I don’t know what level of these people are. There might be some people that took it before, but some people don’t think it’s going to take three hours,” Potthoff said. “A lot of times, you know, I’m pushing them to get done in three hours and then you’ll have somebody that’s done in an hour. But three hours is a good time that you can do it leisurely and not have to be pushed.”

At this class, people won’t do incredibly intricate designs, she noted. “It can be a personal and meditative thing, and a very social thing,” Potthoff said.

She’s also learned from Luba Perchyshyn, founder of the Ukrainian Gift Shop in Minneapolis, Minn. Since 2008, Potthoff has taught pysanky in the central Illinois area. In 2016, Potthoff took acrylic painting and drawing classes at Illinois Central College, and also joined the Illinois Art League (IAL) as a means to meet other artists.

Eggs decorated by Crystal Potthoff.

“Creating art is a spiritual process for me. I love seeing an egg shell, canvas or other media come to life with color and form,” she wrote on her site. “My favorite subjects are landscape and nature. It is most fulfilling when my art inspires others to see beauty in their own world.”

A quote from St. Basil the Great sums up Potthoff’s love for creating art – “The world is a work of art displayed for the beholding of all people; to make them known Him who created it.”

Potthoff will return for other Pysanky workshops at GAHC later this year.

April 2 Eiermarkt in Davenport

Her business, Prayerful Arts, will have a table at the GAHC Eiermarkt on Saturday, April 2nd from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and proceeds of the sales will go toward humanitarian aid in Ukraine. 

At the spring craft fair, you can browse a variety of crafts and homemade goods from local vendors and artisans. Featured crafts will be pysanky eggs, homemade breads and candies, wooden bowls, candy boxes, plus much more. Admission is free.

The Eiermarkt Vendors will be:

  • First Lutheran Church – Chris Sederstrom—Tea towels, cards, aprons, knitted accessories, baby items, mini breads.
  • Gene Vincent—Wooden bowls & vessels
  • Sherry Cosentine—Cloth items, cookies, and candy
  • Crystal Potthoff—Pysanky Eggs, jewelry, cards
  • Teresa Sage—Candy Boxes
  • Anita Holst—Hot cross buns
  • Eickhoff Crafts—Wooden/painted eggs & boards; intarsia eggs & stenciled blocks
  • Jeanette Korthaus—Florals
  • Carri Williams—Paintings/drawings, fairytale/fantasy art, cards, prints, bookmarks, stickers
  • Jolene & Philip Harvey—Jewelry, Easter decor, magnets, books
  • Janice Claeys—Pies, cookies, cupcakes
  • Susan McPeters—“Tipsy teapots”
  • Janet Leman—Jewelry, pictures, earrings
  • Blooming Meadows – Martha Cox & Ginny McCall—Crafting retreat promo
  • Abigail Hult—Stickers, notecards, journals

For more information on the GAHC, click HERE.