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‘A pocket full of eggs’

Artist continues creative streak at Eagle’s Trace

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November 3rd, 2016
To create her beautifully decorated eggs, Dottie Williams dips them in a series of progressively darker colors.

To create her beautifully decorated eggs, Dottie Williams dips them in a series of progressively darker colors.

Dottie Williams recalls the first time she saw Ukrainian Easter eggs.

“I was in the second grade, living in Illinois, and my classmate George brought eggs to school,” says Dottie. “I still remember holding them in my hand.”

The intricately decorated, beautifully colored eggs are part of Ukraine’s cultural heritage. Called pysanky, from the verb pysaty, which means to write, artists decorate the eggs with traditional folk designs using a wax-resist method.

“It took me 30 years to track down the supplies to make my own eggs,” says Dottie. “Even then, I still had to learn the technique.”

Although she’s not of Ukrainian descent, Dottie says the eggs have fascinated her from the first time she saw them in the second grade.

“I really started to look for resources to make the eggs in the early 1970s when I was helping out with the children’s ministry at our church,” says Dottie. “I wanted an Easter symbol for children that was more meaningful than the Easter bunny.”

Pysanky dates back to the pre-Christian era, but the symbols painted on the eggs, including wheat, fish, roosters, and stars, took on a new meaning in 988, when Vladimir the Great established Christianity as the state religion. The eggs served as a representation of man’s rebirth and became a traditional Easter gift.

“What you ‘write’ on the eggs is what you wish for the person receiving it,” says Dottie. “Health, wealth, a bountiful harvest, or long life are all wishes you can express in your design.”

Egg-decorating basics

Dottie found a supply company out of Minnesota and sent off for the dyes and beeswax used to decorate the eggs. 

“The supplies came with a little black-and-white booklet of basic instructions and designs,” says Dottie. “That was my only resource until my husband showed me the National Geographic magazine in April 1972. Inside was an article about pysanky with everything I needed to know to decorate my own eggs.”

Dottie uses a brass cone mounted on a stick, called a kistka, to create her design. She heats the kistka over a candle, then fills it with beeswax shavings. The wax flows out of the brass cone onto the eggs as Dottie “writes” on the egg. A succession of dye baths follow as Dottie dips the egg in progressively darker colors. 

“I usually make eggs from January until Easter,” says Dottie. “Then I’ll go to church with a pocket full of eggs and give them away.”

Over the past several decades, Dottie has also demonstrated the art of pysanky and sold her eggs at folk art festivals and craft fairs across Houston, her home since 1975.

Dottie’s most recent egg-decorating demonstration took place at Eagle’s Trace, the Erickson Living community in West Houston where she has lived since April 2016.

Anything but housework

Dottie’s apartment home at Eagle’s Trace befits a woman who can spend most of her waking hours working on crafting projects. Dottie’s other interests include weaving, rug hooking, needle punching, and folk art painting.

“I’ll do just about anything to get out of doing housework,” she laughs.

The den in Dottie’s Gilman-style apartment features wall-to-wall shelving to display her crafting supplies. Dottie’s loom and spinning wheel rest comfortably in her generously sized master bedroom.

“I like to have everything where I can see it,” says Dottie. “That way I can get up and get started on my projects for the day.”

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