Traditional Arts in Northwest Pennsylvania. Interview with Carol Novosel
-Written by Kelly Armor, Edited by Nat Richmond
Carol Novosel, Ukrainian Pysanky
Carol Novosel has created tens of thousands of pysanky, exquisitely decorated eggs using wax and dye. Although many people dabble in pysanky as a hobby, they are an integral part of spring religious traditions among many Ukrainians, Slovaks, Poles, and other Eastern European peoples.
Carol grew up in Sharon, Pennsylvania and has lived in the region her entire life. “Psyanky was always something we did at Easter time. As soon as you were big enough to have your elbows above the table, you did it,” Carol said. She learned from her grandmother and mother. “We made our own tools, we made our own dyes. My grandma said when she was young, she would take the eyelet out of her old lace-up boots, and used that for the stylus point!” On Easter people bring baskets of pysanky to church and they are blessed by the priest.
Pysanky is a wax resist technique. Hot wax is carefully laid onto the egg in detailed patterns, the egg is dyed, then more wax is added, and the egg is dyed again and again after many layers all the wax is removed. The artist must think backwards as she starts with the bottom pattern and works outwards. Carol has a lifetime of experience learning about pysanky and can identify traditional patterns from various countries. She is quick to point out that there is no right or wrong pattern. It is up to the artist. “It can be contemporary, it can be whatever. It's funny because when I was younger, I think I heard every chicken and egg joke. Now the art form has respect because the materials are compact, organic and eventually biodegradable.” Many people now copy eggs they see on the internet, but Carol prefers to create her own designs.
Carol says her ancestors came from eastern Ukraine near the Polish border. Her grandparents immigrated in the early 20th century and they, and eventually their children, worked in the coal mines in western Pennsylvania and suffered persecution as newcomers. “I was bilingual till I was six but the minute I started going to first grade, they quit speaking Ukrainian around us. They thought I would be treated badly like my parents. They were so wrong, but when they were young had to join the American lifestyle or not work.” Luckily their church had a young priest who started a Ukrainian school that taught folk dancing, language, and singing. “That wonderful young man that was the priest for a long time. He made it fun and happy.” Carol admits without this she would be much less connected to her roots.
In 1972 she saw an article about pysanky in the National Geographic. “At that time, it was a dying art. People were embarrassed by it. They did it at Easter, took it to church, and that was it. When this article came out it was a big deal. And I wrote to them! How do you get those lines? How do you get those colors?” She corresponded with the artists featured in the magazine. Several years later those artists published a book that prominently features some of Carol’s eggs.
Carol has sold thousands of pysanky over the years. One egg was gifted to then President Clinton. Another was given to Dan Rather, another to Barbara Walters. Alex Trebek featured one of her eggs on an episode of Jeopardy. She’ll see her eggs pop up on the internet from all over the world.
Pysanky was started by Pagans as a way to mark the return of the sun and spring and when Christianity arrived they were then incorporated into Easter rituals. During the Cold War Ukrainians were imprisoned for making pysanky. Their Ukrainian identity, not their religious significance, made them taboo to Russians who wanted to espouse the myth of a universal Russian civilization. That same imperial philosophy and the desire to snuff our Ukrainian culture is what has prompted Russians' current invasion of Ukraine. Since the war Carol and her church have been extremely active in assisting refugees and raising money for Ukrainians. “Our little church with the support of the greater community has sent almost $50,000 in the last year.”
Carol organizes an annual festival the week before Easter. You can see hundreds of her hand decorated eggs, a bake sale, face painting, wine tasting, and perohy, stuffed cabbage and Chicken Kyiv to go from St. John’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It is free and open to the public and contributions will go to Ukraine.
36th Annual Ukrainian Egg Festival
Sunday, April 2, 2023 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.
115 Anson Way in Sharon, PA
Erie Arts & Culture is a proud Folk & Traditional Arts Partner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. We are responsible for identifying folk artists and tradition bearers, creating more awareness of folk art and helping communities keep their traditions in Erie, Warren, Crawford, Lawrence, Mercer, and Venango counties.