A dy(e)ing traditional art, reborn
Marie Lindstrom passes on Ukrainian Easter egg hobby to great-niece
By Anna Jauhola
Even in a strict Ukrainian household in the far reaches of Kittson County, there were colorful traditions that made life interesting and entertaining.
Marie (Weleski) Lindstrom, who grew up in Caribou just 1 mile from the Canadian border, remembers Fourth of July picnics, services at St. Nicholas Church and of course, dyeing Easter eggs with her mother. This activity wasn’t just a one-morning venture – it was an art that took years of practice.
Lindstrom was born to Ukrainian immigrants and remembers watching her mother create patterns with dye and preserving them using beeswax. Then she learned the art and taught it to her daughter, Leanna Sandahl.
Dyeing Ukrainian Easter eggs, called pysankas, became a big hobby for Lindstrom when her late husband, Virgil, worked at the bus plant in Pembina.
“He’d be gone all day, so I had to have something to keep me out of trouble,” she said, laughing. “It’s a good pastime. I find it all very relaxing.”
Ukrainian Easter eggs are not only intricately dyed, they are made from real eggs – usually chicken, but Lindstrom has used goose, emu, rhea and ostrich eggs as well.
You must start with fresh eggs straight from the bird. Lindstrom’s eggs come from Al Johnson’s chickens down the road. If they have any dirt or manure on them, she soaks them in a vinegar-water solution and lets them air dry overnight. She orders all her dye and materials from the Ukrainian Gift Shop, a store in Minneapolis. She started off using a traditional kistka, the tool used to melt and put beeswax on the egg. Once she made enough money from selling her eggs, Lindstrom purchased an electric kistka.
The eggs are raw when she starts dyeing. The graduated process goes from lightest colors to darkest. So, any pattern she wants to show up in white, she makes that pattern on the egg with the beeswax. Then she applies dye in this order: yellow or gold, green, blue, orange, red or pink, and finally black, dark red or purple, and royal blue.
After applying each color, she then covers it with beeswax to prevent dyes from mixing.
When complete, she melts the wax off over a lit candle, and carefully wipes it dry with a paper towel or rag. Then she applied a coat of varnish with her hands, lets the egg dry overnight on a pedestal of three nails and applies a second coat. Once that’s dry, she drills holes with a dremel on the top and bottom of the egg, uses a wire to break up the yolk and a rubber bulb to blow out the insides. A careful washing under a thin stream of water cleans out the egg.
“Each pattern and each color has a meaning,” Lindstrom said, referencing a book she has from the Ukrainian Gift Shop.
According to the book, a ribbon or belt around the egg means “the endless line of eternity.” Baskets or triangles signify the Holy Trinity. Ladders suggest prayer. The rose or eight-pointed stars, and fish, are ancient symbols for Christ. There are several crosses used in the decorations, and the butterfly, all of which reflect the resurrection. A leaf or flower means life and growth, and a grapevine means “good fruits” of the Christian life.
White means purity, innocence and birth; Red means sun, hope, passion and happiness; Orange means strength, endurance or patience; Brown represents Mother Earth; Light green means spring, new growth and hope; Pink means success; Black is eternity.
On every egg she ever creates, Lindstrom always puts a dab of orange because it means patience.
“And you need a lot of patience to do these eggs,” she said with a laugh.
While Lindstrom uses many of these symbols in her designs, she has also made more contemporary eggs for people she knows. She has made many eggs using quilting designs for her friends who practice that skill.
She used to make about four dozen eggs each year to sell at craft shows. In between, she’d make dozens of other eggs for gifts, including goose and emu eggs to create dioramas for young couples as wedding gifts.
Although Lindstrom passed on this tradition to her daughter, at the end of 2020, she received a surprise request from her great-niece, April Weleski. The 2021 graduate of Lancaster High School wanted to learn how to make Ukrainian Easter eggs. After a single day of learning the art, Weleski was hooked.
“She went home that night, got on her computer, called the Ukrainian store in Minneapolis and ordered her writing tool (kistka) and her dyes, the first day!” Lindstrom said.
And Weleski is still going. Now a first-year student at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, Weleski has her eggs, tools and dyes set up in her kitchen.
“Growing up, we’d always see Auntie Marie make them for our family,” Weleski said. “I asked her if she’d have time to teach me how to do it. She seemed really excited to have somebody in the family carrying on the tradition.”
She knew the intricate nature of her undertaking and knew it was going to be special. But, she didn’t know the impact her new art would have on people across the world. Weleski wanted to share her creations with family and friends, and started a separate Snapchat story and an Instagram feed. As she followed others making Ukrainian Easter eggs, they replied with positive comments about her eggs.
“I don’t post often, but then I’d follow other accounts. They’d follow me back and see what I’m doing and tell me to keep going, keep working on them,” Weleski said. “I was really surprised. I didn’t think my eggs would be that noticeable.”
She said some people straight from Ukraine have even liked and commented on her posts about the eggs she’s made.
“I think it’s really special that it extends that far, these little eggs I make that are kind of mediocre as a beginner,” she said.
Weleski is majoring in accounting, but is already just as hooked on the tradition as Lindstrom. She sold four eggs over Christmas, but has mostly given them away as gifts, just like her Auntie Marie. Lindstrom and Weleski each said it takes them about four hours to dye a chicken egg. Lindstrom’s biggest project was an ostrich egg, which took her 30 hours to complete.