How do you like your eggs?
By Anita Davidson
Dorothy Sawyer Williams sits at a long table, before a burning candle and a block
of beeswax. A handcrafted compartmen-
ted box filled with jars of aniline dyes is
at her left/Along the length of the table
are clusters of eggs in various stages of
decoration. She heats an instrument
called a kistka, a "funnel on a stick."
With the hot tip of the kistka she picks
up a small quantity of beeswax and draws
a botonee cross on the shell of a raw egg.
She draws free-hand, using as placement
guides the wax lines drawn around the
egg- the first step in the creation of
Pysanky decorated eggs.
"I was in the second grade when I saw
my first Pysanky — someone had brought
it to show the class." Intrigued with the
delicate beauty of the.Ukrainian Easter
egg, Williams wanted to learn the technique, but could not find the necessary
tools and dyes.
"It took me thirty years to find out
where to get the kits." In the meantime,
she tried to make her own kistka, but
could not make one small enough. Finally,
in 1972, a St. Louis newspaper did a story
on a member of the Ukrainian Society who
created Pysanky and sold the kits. Williams called the woman long-distance and
ordered one. Learning to use the kistka
took some practice, but was not difficult
for her. The dyes, however, were too
"I tried boiling crepe paper, and I tried
Rit dyes. I even tried India inks, but was
not happy with any of these. Then I tried
the aniline dyes and they work best for
me; they come out clear and bright no
matter what kind of eggs I use."
Completing the cross, she turns the egg
and begins a duplicate cross on the opposite side. A young girl stops to watch.
"Have you ever done Batik?" Williams
asks her. No, her brother had but she
"Have you ever used crayons and Paas
dyes to decorate Easter eggs?" Yes, she
had done that.
"Well, this is the same thing, except
that kistka makes it possible to draw a
finer line and put in more details." She
picks up a completely colored, but still
wax-covered egg, and after holding it in
the flame for a moment, wipes the wax
from a small area. "A-h-h-h's" from everyone as the colors pop out like tiny jewels.
Pysanky eggs make unique gifts, and are
unusual Christmas tree ornaments. Williams ! eggs are sold at Craft Industries,
where she also holds workshops and
"A person who has trouble using her
bifocals will have a problem making Pysanky. The funnel becomes clogged with
wax and must be cleaned often by threading a thin wire through the tip; if you
can't thread a needle, you can't do it."
Dottie Williams has no trouble using
her bifocals, and she has a rock-steady
hand as well. Her designs are precise and
intricately detailed. She works on Pysanky
every day; a fact that does not impress her
husband. He objects to the eggs and dyes
all over the kitchen. In fact he built the
lovely wood box that holds her jars of
dyes in an effort to contain the clutter and
get the dyes out of the kitchen cabinets.
About the ancient tradition of decorating eggs, Williams says, "The egg was a
pagan fertility symbol before it became a
Christian symbol of rebirth. In the
Ukraine, the decorated Easter eggs became an important symbol in the rituals
of the newly-accepted Christian religion.
They were usually prepared in secret and
exchanged on Easter morning in a special
Traditionally they are given raw;however, Williams blows her eggs, having
found that they sometimes explode.
"After receiving from a friend to
whom I had sent a Pysanky a letter that
began 'Dear Dottie, ha ha, guess what
happened?' I have since blown all my eggs
for safety, unless I'm trying to get even
"How long does it take to make one of
these eggs?" someone asks.
"It can take four or five hours. Surprisingly, those with fewer details and
large areas of solid color may take the
longest because the solid areas must be
completely covered with wax to prevent
the succeeding colors from seeping
through and causing a blotchy effect."
The Ukrainian custom of making Pysanky, traditionally passed from mother
to daughter, was almost a lost art when
members of the Ukrainian Society began
efforts to revive the custom by selling the
kits through the mail order and hobby
:stores. Williams is not Ukrainian, but believes that "Pysanky is an art to be
shared; if you don't share it, you lose it."
Dorothy Sawyer Williams will give
demonstrations at the Upstairs Gallery at
Craft Industries, Artisan's Way, Woodlake
Square, Westheimer at Gessner on March
18 and 25 between 1:00 p.m. and
4:00 p.m. For more information call the
Gallery at 789-8170.
By Kathleen Williamson
An insolent egg protrudes a pink tongue
as an exhausted egg does push-ups with
Haughty champagne-sipping eggs turn
away from more amiable beer drinkers.
An impatient egg cracks itself with a
hammer while a contentious couple arm-
The deft touch and unbounded imagination of sculptor Nita Estes Parker have
transformed the banal ovoid into a whole
cast of engaging "Eggcentrics".
Complementing the playful miniatures
are other, more enigmatic works: a lace-
cuffed hand lies in a plate, a translucent
egg in its palm. A golden egg is partly
concealed within a finely textured handkerchief. These small sculptures, with their
careful attention to detail, evoke a sense
of the mystery underlying everyday occur
rences. For this series, Parker has used
white porcelain that has been salt-glazed
for a natural sheen and accented with
An accomplished artist, Parker left
painting for pottery five years ago. After
mastering functional claywork, she ventured into sculpture to shape her provocative images. In 1976, her series of flying
breasts, titled "Amazon Airways", received an award from the Houston Designer Craftsmen.
"My work with eggs evolved from the
breast form about a year ago," Parker
states. "Now, I'm building more elaborate
stage settings for different kinds of egg
Parker's "Eggcentrics" are on display
at the South Shepherd Potworks, Houston's first potters' co-op, at 5218 South
Shepherd (at Bissonnet). The Potworks
was opened last October by Ethel Bilyeu
and Sue and Tom Verso, all practicing
ceramicists. The shelves have works of 25
Houston potters. Everything from mugs
to objets d'art is sold at prices lower than
at conventional craft outlets. Hours are
from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays
through Saturdays. Nita Estes Parker's
sculpture may be seen through March.
from around the world
at very moderate prices
Selected Antiques On Sale
$10.00, originally $18.00
I73I Westheimer, 523-0809
HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH Page 15