Grand Ave. shop’s Ukrainian Easter egg class will benefit war-torn country.

Justin Terlecki has been decorating Easter eggs in the Ukrainian tradition of pysanky since his childhood in Youngstown, Ohio. After moving to the Twin Cities nearly 25 years ago, the Lowertown artist has continued the tradition through his annual demonstrations and classes at Wet Paint, the art supply store at 1684 Grand Ave. where he has worked since 1999.

This spring his class has taken on even greater meaning with the war in Ukraine. “I’ve felt helpless,” Terlecki said of the war. “But by celebrating Ukraine’s culture and bringing awareness of this beautiful tradition, it feels like I’m doing something.”

Terlecki will be conducting a virtual class in pysanky for beginners on Saturday, April 9. The five-hour class costs $34, and all of the fees and any additional donations will be sent to the Ukrainian Red Cross, according to Scott Fares, co-owner of Wet Paint.

myvillager house ad myvillager house ad                

“We didn’t think twice about dedicating the event to the people of Ukraine,” Fares said. “Justin’s Ukrainian egg painting classes and demonstrations have been special.

Ukrainian Easter Eggs
Artist Justin Terlecki displays his personal collection of handcrafted Ukrainian Easter Eggs in the classroom at Wet Paint Artists’ Materials & Framing, 1684 Grandi Ave. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“People love to watch him work through the intricate process of making these beautiful eggs while simultaneously hearing the story of his family tradition of creating them growing up,” Fares said. “We had been looking forward to celebrating a kind of return to normal with this year’s class, but this year is anything but normal.”

“I think it’s amazing,” Terlecki said. “(Wet Paint has) been very supportive. They think of my egg decorating as a springtime tradition and this year as especially important. I don’t have words to convey the feelings I have.”

“Pysanky represents a visual language handed down from generation to generation,” Terlecki said. “The word pysanky is related to the word for ‘write.’ Each egg contains very specific meanings depicted by the design motifs”

Terlecki has found it painful to watch news reports of the war. “I haven’t been to Ukraine, but growing up in Ukrainian churches, I know how beautiful their architecture is,” he said. His Youngstown grade school was connected to a Byzantine Ukrainian church. “I grew up with beautiful icons,” he said. “I was an altar boy. It’s so upsetting to realize that towns and buildings that have been around for centuries are now destroyed, not to mention the many thousands of people who have been harmed by this unnecessary war.

“In Ukrainian culture, there is such an emphasis on beauty and design in traditional folk clothing, pysanky and church icons. Growing up, my grandparents would talk about how important it is to keep Ukrainian traditions alive. They’d talk about how Russia wanted to absorb the culture. Keeping the tradition of pysanky alive honors my grandparents and the rich heritage of Ukraine.”

Decorating their Easter eggs the Luba way

Terlecki earned a BFA in painting and printmaking from Youngstown State University. Not long after moving to the Twin Cities, he ventured into the Ukrainian Gift Shop in Minneapolis. There he met Luba Perchyshyn, a member of the family that founded the shop. “I was star-struck,” Terlecki said. “I was so honored to meet her.”

Back in Youngstown when decorating eggs at their school, Terlecki and his classmates were shown a filmstrip about pysanky. Remarkably, the person demonstrating the art was Perchyshyn. Terlecki  and his classmates used to joke that they needed to do their Ukrainian Easter eggs the Luba way. “I had no idea Luba was from Minneapolis or that she had a store here,” he said.

Terlecki has been demonstrating the art of pysanky at Wet Paint for the past two decades. “When I interviewed for the job, it was late April 1999 and I noticed they had Ukrainian Easter egg kits. I told them I knew how to make pysanky. Then when I was hired, they asked me if I’d be willing to demonstrate. Every year after that, I did free demonstrations on Saturdays. People would come and stay for the whole time, which was four hours.”

Ukrainian Easter Eggs
Justin Terlecki demonstrates the Ukrainian folk art of pysanky, applying heated beeswax to an egg shell before dipping the shell in a colored dye and making what are known as Ukrainian Easter Eggs. Photo by Brad Stauffer

A magical process that is meant to be relaxing

The COVID outbreak canceled the classes planned for the spring of 2020. In 2021, Terlecki taught his first virtual class in pysanky. “It actually went much better than I thought,” he said. “Many of the people who registered had several people participate with them. I had people from Minnesota, Michigan, South Carolina and Youngstown.

“Pysanky represents a visual language handed down from generation to generation,” Terlecki said. “The word pysanky is related to the word for ‘write.’ Each egg contains very specific meanings depicted by the design motifs. A few examples are ladders that represent prayer, dots and small circles that represent the stars and constellations, pine needles that represent long life, and ribbons that represent the endless line of eternity.”

Terlecki wants the participants in his classes to enjoy the decorating process and not feel they have to strive for perfection. “I want it to be relaxing and magical as it is for me,” he said.

The process involves making a small hole at the top of a raw egg with a special tool that pulls the insides out. Then beeswax that has been melted with a candle is applied to the egg in lines that form a design. The egg is then dipped in a colored liquid with the wax serving as a resistance to the color. More wax is applied, and the egg is dipped again in color. That process is repeated until the egg is finished. The beeswax is then melted away to reveal the final design.

Terlecki’s class on April 9 will run from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. To register for the Zoom link and to obtain information on the necessary supplies and advance preparation, individuals and groups may visit info.wetpaintart.com/event/pysanky-for-beginners-taught-by-justin-terlecki-2.

— Anne Murphy

COMMENTS TERMS OF SERVICE

The Villager welcomes comments from readers. Please include your full name and the neighborhood in which you live. Be respectful of others and stay on topic. We reserve the right to remove any comment we deem to be profane, rude, insulting or hateful. Comments will be reviewed before being published.