top of page

Discover the Magic of Pysanky with expert and best selling author Joan Brander

Підготував Віталій Кубацький (Ванкувер)

Вперше ми познайомились із Джоан на багатокультурному фестивалі Fusion-2011 у м. Сюррей, тоді її колекція та писанкарська майстерня були об’єктом постійного зацікавлення відвідувачів. Представляємо до вашої уваги розгорнуте інтерв’ю із народною майстринею із Канади. Читати далі англійською:

Joan, so how did it all start? Where did you learn to make pysanky?

I learned when I was a child, about 4 or 5 years old.  The tradition is one that is passed down from generation to generation.  My first inspiration was from my grandmother and mother.  We lived in a small community in Sheho, Saskatchewan.  At that time, which was in the early 1960’s, my grandparents had moved from their rural homestead into neighbouring Foam Lake where I attended high school.  Baba lived across the road from the school so there were many opportunities to be with her.


Where did pysanky originate?

People in Ukraine have been decorating eggs using beeswax and dyes for generations.  The tradition originated in ancient pre-Christian times and reflected a religious outlook, social structure, and way of life. The pre-Christian pagan religion worshiped the sun, moon, stars, rain, fire and wind. These religious beliefs stemmed from the phenomenon of life and death and were dictated by the repetitive cycle of nature. This ritual involved magical thinking, a calling out to the gods and goddesses for health, fertility, love, and wealth.  Spring was eagerly awaited and celebrated when it arrived.  This was the most important season of the year in an agrarian society and various rituals were performed on its behalf.  One of the rituals was writing symbols on pysanky.

Is there any special meaning to pysanky?

With the coming of Christianity to Ukraine, the Church merged the pagan Spring holiday with Easter – the Resurrection of Christ. Many of the ancient rituals became a part of the Easter cycle of celebrations. In addition to using it for my Easter celebrations, I also appreciate the therapeutic and aesthetic appeal of every pysanka I write.  But I believe that the tradition of pysanky and what they mean should be preserved.  I am committed to preserving its tradition, custom and history, and don’t want to see its significance watered down (such as being perceived only for its entertainment value) in any way.

It doesn’t look easy.

The process itself is not difficult.  Convincing people to try is harder.  With simple tools such as beeswax and dyes, and the proper instruction, anyone can learn to make beautiful pysanky the traditional way.  Once decorated this way a pysanka will last for many years. From kindergarten to senior homes—I have taught thousands of people from 6 to 96—and many men, too!  Not once have I ever heard a negative comment such as not liking it or not having fun.  I have fun, too, as it’s very rewarding to see people enjoy themselves and I enjoy helping people.  The magic at the end when they see their design come to life is indescribable.  Add the element of fun to learning and you have the perfect combination!


Tell us more about your “Ukrainian side”, where were your roots in Ukraine (which region)?

On my father’s side, dad was born in Bohdaniwka (Skalat) in 1909, emigrated to Canda in 1928 and settled in Saskatchewan.  On my mother’s side, grandfather was born in Hrushowichy (Yaroslav) and grandmother in Hrushowichny (Yaworiw).  Both emigrated to Canada in 1907 and 1908 respectively, and also settled in Saskatchewan.

I understand that pysanky is not only your hobby, but also your business?

Yes.  You know that Baba was my inspiration and teacher, and you know the significance that beeswax has to the technique of pysanky—so you see why the whimsical name Baba’s Beeswax is so fitting.

The main focus of Baba’s Beeswax is to share knowledge, teach how to make pysanky, and provide the tools and supplies to make them.  There are many different features to this business venture.  Just when I think I’ve exhausted them all, a new idea comes up!  I strive to keep information dynamic and current.

Is your family involved as well? How do they support you?

I have been immersed in Ukrainian culture my whole life and have retained many cultural customs and rituals, most notably pysanky, other Easter customs, and Christmas traditions.  Alas I don’t qualify in the cooking or baking category, but I do love eating Ukrainian food!  Fortunately my husband, Tom, loves to cook, is an expert at these national dishes, and satisfies my culinary cravings.  His ancestry is Scottish but through osmosis he has become very Ukrainian!  We are proud parents to Jacob.

Both Tom and Jacob are very supportive of my Ukrainian ancestry.  They help in the dissemination of information through Baba’s Beeswax and are very creative in writing their own pysanky.

I am the youngest of 5 girls in my family.  Each of my sisters supports me any way she can.  Although they all live in other provinces, the physical distance that separates us is diminished by the speed of today’s travel and communication.  They have been involved in many ways from mundane tasks of packaging items to the excitement of workshops, displays and book launches.

So, are pysanky only a “Ukrainian thing”? Have you had people from other nationalities interested in learning pysanky art?

Yes, because of their origin and meaning, pysanky are a “Ukrainian thing”.  However, people of all cultures and nationalities are curious about us and our customs.  They, too, want to learn, and once they try writing pysanky they can easily become addicted to it!  Participating in multicultural events is one way to showcase pysanky to other nationalities.


Is there a pysanky art community? Is there any network of people involved in this activity in Canada, Ukraine, or perhaps other countries?

Until recently, pysanka art has been veiled in community halls, churches and families, and only at Easter.  In Ukraine the activity was suppressed by the Soviet regime.  Now everything is in the open.  The internet has brought people of similar interests from all over the world together, and one only has to google the word to find groups networking socially.  I am proud to be a pioneer in the progress of pysanky on the internet, as I’ve had a website dedicated to it since 1997!  People on Facebook and following my blog network together as a community.  A “physical” community is more common in the Spring or at Easter, but you can connect online with anyone about pysanky year-round. If any of your viewers have an interest in pysanky and want to get together on a regular basis to network they can contact me to set something up.

Where can people see your art? I assume you must have a huge collection. 

Yes, I have a Pysanky Gallery of permanent collections I have amassed over the years—made from many types of eggs from lovebird . . . to chicken . . . . to goose . . . . to ostrich.  As well, I have a Library that houses hundreds of books, videos, magazines, newsletters and artwork all dedicated to pysanky.  People can learn to make pysanky in my Studio where I give lessons.  All visits are made by appointment so please ask your viewers to contact me if they are interested.

Tell me about the books on pysanky art you have authored, and why you wrote them.

All my publications over the past 20 years have been written to satisfy the yearning for information on pysanky.  My first book was a Children’s Activity Book dedicated to my own young son.  It is targeted to children in the 2 to 12 year age group.  It has attracted the attention of not only mothers and grandmothers, but also teachers and educators for use in schools.

For six years between 1995 and 2001 I published and distributed a newsletter EGGS-aminer which was dedicated to promoting greater public awareness of pysanky.

More recently, in 2008, I published a bibliography.  My research and experience illuminated the fact that there was an obvious lack of published material on pysanky.  Because there was no published bibliography, I decided to write my own.  At the book launch in Washington, DC the Library of Congress recognized this and gave the book a mark of distinction by instituting a place for pysanky in its bibliography class of headings.

In the years between there was a need for other material such as teaching aids and informational pamphlets to satisfy a growing audience.  My newest foray in educating people on pysanky is the filming of video clips of information, knowledge, hints and money-saving tips.

Do you think pysanky can find their place in the public school program?

Yes, they already have.  The activity integrates with multicultural and language arts, social studies, math and science.  Hands-on pysanky is a valuable adjunct to the current school curriculum that explores immigration to Canada offered in the elementary level.

I have been presenting workshops to schools since 1991.  Back then, when Donna Chan, a teacher from Annieville Elementary School in Delta saw me demonstrating pysanky, she asked me to present a workshop to her class.  Ever since then I have been hooked on teaching and have taught thousands of children to make magic with beeswax and dyes!  Not only do I teach children, but I also teach teachers how to teach children!

I have published teaching aids that I not only use myself in school workshops, but also make available to teachers, school boards and libraries.

What are your plans for the near future? Where can people meet you in person?

It is best to keep up with my whereabouts on the website or follow me on Facebook (Discover the Magic of Pysanky) or iluvpysanky blog.  Although I have my annual favorites for workshops and presentations, new public locations and dates are always popping up!

How much are you involved with the local Ukrainian community?

I have lived in Richmond for over 30 years, and my proximity to Vancouver and other areas of the lower mainland has allowed me to stay involved in my community.  I am a member and volunteer of Ukrainian Community Society of Ivan Franko and served on the Board of Directors for ten years. I have participated in many major Ukrainian celebrations, most notably Ukrainian Centennial Days (Plaza of Nations, Vancouver 1991 and 2000), Canada Day at Canada Place (Vancouver 1992), Ukrainian Showcase (PNE, Vancouver 1992) and more recently the 120th Anniversary of Ukrainian Settlement in Canada Celebration (2011).  I also participate in multicultural projects and activities to keep the spirit of Ukrainian culture alive and have earned the moniker of “The Egg Lady”.

Have you been involved with a wider audience?

Yes, I have organized pysanky displays and workshops across Canada and the United States—for example, Vegreville Pysanka Festival (Vegreville, AB), Eggfest (Moncton, NB), Pacific Northwest Egg Show (Tacoma, WA), and Pysanka Symposium (Washington, DC).

What problems would you say are most challenging for our community?

We are challenged to find time—to find people to take time out of their busy lives to make a contribution to promote our culture and traditions—convincing people that getting involved is fun and doesn’t have to be a 24/7 commitment.  We need reminders to strengthen the sense of community in our community.

As the year end draws near, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on the past and to look ahead to the future.  What closing thoughts do you have?

Ukrainians have a rich and colourful culture to share.  People from all ethnic groups are interested in us, what we do and why we do it.  We are talented, hard working and have many reasons to celebrate.  When we celebrate we create the impetus to keep the Ukrainian spirit alive.  I am proud to be Ukrainian, flattered to be featured in your website Ukrainian Vancouver, and honoured to celebrate the tradition of pysanky.  I look to the future as being very “eggs-citing”!

Thank you for this interesting conversation and good luck to you!

You can contact and find out more about pysanky expert and best-selling author Joan Brander at

2 views0 comments


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page