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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Ingrid Hersman of Kearns displays one of the Easter eggs she dyed using traditional Eastern European techniques. Hersman has helped teach Germans how to do the art after it was banned for 20 years.

LEHI — During the Cold War, women in East Germany found with blue and red fingertips were in trouble.

The evidence of dye meant they were making the beautifully decorated Easter eggs that not only declared religious devotion but also sometimes sent secret messages to the outside world.

For 20 years, the practice was banned.

After the Berlin Wall came down, Americans like Ingrid Hersman of Kearns went back to Germany and Poland to teach the art of Pysanky to women whose grandmothers once made elaborate designs on hollow eggs — designs created by painstakingly applying wax to layers of color.

When the wax is melted away, the complete design appears.

Today, Hersman teaches classes on Pysanky, or the art of egg decorating.

"I came all the way from Berlin to teach you," Hersman told her students at an Emporium cooking class at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi recently.

"You have traditions. You have family. You work on eggs together. That's what this is about," she said.

Hersman said the world has always worshipped eggs because they represent new life and new opportunities.

"All life broke from a shell," she said. "The egg was a miracle."

The eggs with the proper design are used to bless marriages, ward off a storm and even capture evil spirits. In Ukrainian villages, individual families had designs specific to their home and heritage.

Various regions have recognizable patterns on their eggs — from swirls, stripes, figures and flowers to stars, dots and phrases.

Straight lines on the eggs come from endless practice. Complicated designs come from planning, creativity and a kind of talent for thinking backwards.

"The wax seals the surface, each color is protected from the next," Hersman said. "When the wax melts, the design appears."

Hersman doesn't use boiled berries or bark or seeds for her dyes, but she doesn't use the popular Easter egg dyes, either.

"You want to use an aniline dye. They're expensive, but they give a deeper color, and they last as long as they're not touched," she said.

After an egg is finished, she varnishes it to preserve it.

She works on all sizes of eggs, from small quail and guinea fowl eggs to ostrich, goose and duck eggs.

"These are from my chickens," she said, showing off a dozen brown eggs.

Judith Hutak drove from Ogden to learn from Hersman.

"My heritage is Russian, and when I was little, I remember watching my grandmother do these. Of course, I didn't pay a lot of attention then," Hutak said. "I've wanted to learn to do this every year, and now's the year."

Debbie Tingey reads the story "Rechenkai Eggs" to her first-graders at Suncrest Elementary every Easter and wants to have some eggs she's made to take to school to show her class.

"Years ago, a friend of mine gave me one. I thought it was beautiful," she said.

Cinda Morgan has a son just home from serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia. "I thought it would be fun to surprise him when he comes home for Easter," she said.

Everyone in the class agreed that it isn't a simple art. It's time-consuming and challenging.

In olden times, the patterns and designs were kept private. Women would fast and pray before starting and then work in secret. It was considered sacred work.

"They believed the feelings you had as you worked went right into the egg," Hersman said.

The eggs for decorating must first be hollowed and cleaned out. The tiny holes punched in the top and bottom need to allow the yolk and white to escape but be small enough to hide in the design.

Beeswax is heated with a candle and dropped onto the egg with a stylus tool known as a kistka.

The egg is dipped in vinegar to cleanse it of oils and then dipped.

Each time the egg is dipped in dye, another layer of color is preserved. As the work progresses, the artist must constantly determine what he or she wants to remain.

That may be relatively easy working with dots, stars and flowers, but with patterns that include dancers, deer, cross-hatching and scenes, it becomes mind-boggling.

And there's no such thing as erasing.

"Mistakes in wax cannot be changed," said Hersman. "You can't go backwards."

Web sites to visit

; www.ukrainianegg.com; www.ukrainiangiftshop.com

E-mail: [email protected]