Nicholas Rayder slowly dips a rudimentary homemade tool — a straight pin stuck into an eraser at the end of a pencil — into the smoking paraffin wax, and gently "draws" designs on a brightly dyed yellow egg.
As he draws, he loses himself completely. As he finishes, he looks up and says, "It’s a process, not a skill. It moves in and puts you in another space."
Rayder, of Scottsdale, practices the art of Pysanky, or Ukrainian Easter egg decorating. The tradition dates back to before Christ in the Ukraine, a region of southeastern Europe, where it was believed that great powers were embodied in the egg. To the Ukrainians, the egg symbolized the release of the Earth from winter, the coming of spring and the promise of hope.
Early Christians expanded on the metaphor and used Easter eggs to symbolize the Resurrection and the promise of eternal life. Rayder, who is of Ukrainian descent, learned the art of Pysanky from his father. But it’s a tradition Rayder forgot as he went out and made his way in the world.
"I was busy pursuing fame and fortune," Rayder says, describing his days as a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and his postdoctoral work at Stanford.
An illness was his wake-up call that he wasn’t living his "true self," and Rayder says he realized that "I was either going to end my life or begin it — I decided to begin it."
Today, as he colors Easter eggs to give to neighbors and friends, he continues to find meaning in the process as a metaphor for his life.
"In our youth, it’s the piling on of things — the house, the career, the family," he says reflectively. "Later in life you become a reductionist. You spend time coloring eggs and giving them away, and you learn it is the giving that creates the most joy."
Rayder dedicates this story to his Aunt Ann Brasche, who turned 93 on April 17. She’s a "good egg," he says.
PYSANKY (UKRAINIAN EASTER EGGS) -
Hard-boiled eggs Paraffin Dye (batik works best, but Paas
brand dye works if "doubled" —
use 2 tablets of dye per canning
jar) Drawing tools (pencils with straight
pins stuck in the end of a pencil
eraser) Canning jars Clean hands
Note: Remember, there is no "right" way or "wrong" way. Experiment and have fun!
1. Boil eggs in a nonaluminum pan in vinegar and water to clean the shells. Let eggs cool to room temperature.
2. Prepare dyes in separate canning jars. Arrange them from light to dark.
3. Melt paraffin.
4. To introduce "white" into the design, dip the part of the egg not to be dyed in the wax to preserve the natural color of the shell.
5. Using a spoon, gently lower egg entirely in a light color.
6. Dip the egg into hot paraffin wax to preserve dye color. New colors will only be absorbed on the egg where there isn’t any wax. This way, you can dip only sections of the eggs in order to introduce darker, more vibrant colors while maintaining lighter shades.
7. Using drawing tools, you can use wax to draw designs on the egg, thus protecting color and the design when introducing darker colors.
8. To make a floral design: Dip the head of a straight pin into hot wax and make a dot. Create the floral pattern by drawing lines from the dot by placing the pinhead out and dragging the pin gently toward the starting dot. To create a polka-dot design, draw dots by dipping the pinhead into wax and drawing dots with wax on the egg. The color underneath the dot will be preserved, and the dots will be revealed as the egg is dipped into a darker, more vibrant color. 9. When you finish your design, dab off excess dye with a paper towel.