Around the Island

‘Pysanka’ Easter eggs shown at library: Islanders master an ancient art form

A collection of stunning Easter eggs decorated in the ancient Pysanka tradition is on view at the Shelter Island Public Library, courtesy of the Cava family that created them.

The Pysanka tradition is Ukrainian in origin, rooted in rites that pre-date Christianity. “The tradition was taken over for Easter,” after the emergence of Christianity, according to Nell Cava. Ms. Cava said her family began to practice the art of decorating the eggs after her mother, Ellen Cava-Haag, saw it demonstrated on the TV show “Reading Rainbow,” in 1992.

Unlike dyed eggs that are dipped or painted, the Pysanka eggs involve several steps including repeatedly dipping in beeswax and sealing in color, using a stylus to make designs. When the design is finished with the desired color, the wax must be melted off, then the egg wiped clean with a paper towel.

Ideally, that process ends up with a beautiful design, but not always. “It can be very aggravating,” Ms. Cava said. “If you heat the wax too much, you wind up with a huge blob. After spending hours, it can be ruined.”

However, with practice, such disasters can be averted and the results will make for a beautiful Easter display. Ms. Cava, her mother, and father Ralph have spent many years perfecting the art.

The display on view at the library includes a booklet on the artistic process and some tools to show visitors how it’s done.

Ms. Cava works at the library’s circulation desk, handling book orders; she also runs the herbalism program the library offers. As a member of the library’s sustainability team, she works to make the library more sustainable in many fields, she said, environmentally, socially and financially, “helping to get the library to an ideal place.”

And in her spare time, giving the Island a full helping of Easter beauty.