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November 26, 2014

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Artist brings 3,000-year-old craft to Henderson

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Home News

Teaching a 3,000-year tradition, instructor Joy Brittan, left, illustrates dying techniques to Dee Poya, 65, during a Ukrainian Easter egg craft class held at the Henderson Senior Center Tuesday.

Ukrainian Easter eggs

A Ukrainian Easter egg deorated with a poppy, the national flower of Ukraine, is displayed as an example while Dee Poya, 65, creates an egg during the Pysanky craft class held at the Henderson Senior Center Tuesday. Launch slideshow »

Eggshell art

WHAT: Ukrainian Easter Egg class

WHEN: Each Tuesday, 8:30 a.m.

WHERE: Henderson Senior Center, 27 E. Texas Ave.

COST: $5 for a starter kit and $42 for the class

INFO: 267-4150

As a performer, Joy Brittan's artistry used to grace the stages of the Sands and "Jubilee," but for the past 12 years she has focused her talents on a much smaller venue: the egg.

The intricate, 3,000-year-old Ukrainian art of pysansky was passed down to her by 95-year-old master teacher Zoria Zetaruk, whose decorated eggs have hung from the White House Christmas Tree. Now, Brittan is sharing her knowledge at the Henderson Senior Center each Tuesday.

Brittan arrived for class on Tuesday bedecked in traditional Ukrainian dress. The two students who attended the first session embarked on their first designs — leafs.

A familiar refrain of Brittan's former teacher was to "be quiet and do an egg," as the task requires intense concentration.

"It takes patience, dedication and focus," Brittan said. "You don't have to worry about your bills or your ex-husband."

The swirling designs reach even further back than the three-millenia-old art of pysansky, now associated with Easter. Brittan said 6,000-year-old pottery found in Ukraine depicts similar patterns.

The two- to three-hour process begins with each real, drained egg being coated in wax, covering areas the artist wishes to remain white. Then the egg is dipped in successive dyes. After each dip, the artist adds wax to those areas where the next color will not penetrate.

Finally, Brittan places the egg in a toaster she watches carefully as the wax melts, revealing each color. Patterns and shapes have all manner of meanings, and range from simple to complex.

"I take great pride in my eggs," she said. "It only took 12 years (to make them perfectly). It's a magnificent obsession."

She also takes great pride in other parts of her heritage. Brittan was raised in a Ukrainian household in Canada, where eggs were taken to a priest to be blessed, and then given as gifts each Easter. They serve as symbols of rebirth and good luck while warding off evil spirits. "Every Ukrainian household was raised with this," she said.

Brittan attended a Ukrainian school, where she learned to read and write the Cyrillic alphabet. She was in Ukraine when it declared its independence from Russia.

Now, she still performs locally — both traditional show tunes as well as Ukrainian folk songs.

"I sing in Ukrainian all over Nevada," Brittan said.

Previously she performed at the Sands from 1972 to 1982 and then switched to "Jubilee," before traveling the world on various cruises. Since then, she has opted stay closer to home, with one objective.

"I'm on a mission to find a young Ukrainian lady to pass this on to," she said.

While neither individual at the most recent session would fit that description, they were excited about the possibilities in the new hobby.

Henderson resident Patti Brewer, 70, had often seen the eggs displayed at craft fairs.

"I've always thought they were beautiful," said Brewer, who also paints watercolors. "It takes patience."

The class stirred the childhood memories of Dee Poya, 65, who used to help her grandmother with the yearly custom. She was taken aback when she found the listing for the class.

"The first thing I thought was 'I'm going to take that class,'" Poya said. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].

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