“That’s my mini museum. I like to call it my eggs-hibit,” says Andrea Kulish. She’s pointing to a glass-paneled IKEA cabinet situated against the pink wall of Studio A, her gallery in Asheville’s River Arts District. As the pun suggests, the shelves are laden with eggs of all sizes, from delicate quail to ponderous ostrich — and of all colors, rainbow hues far outside the usual range of white to brown.
Kulish’s curios tell the story of her long involvement with pysanky (pronounced pih-sahn-KIH), the traditional Ukrainian art of wax-resist egg decoration. As a young girl in upstate New York, she spent long afternoons after school around the small shop where her mother Ariadna, a Ukrainian immigrant, taught pysanky classes; she quickly picked up the technique and began making her own eggs.
In the cabinet, a clutch of Ariadna’s pieces sit close to a pair of Andrea’s, made when she was just seven years old. The younger Kulish’s lines wavered at that age, but her eye for vibrant color contrasts was already apparent, as shown by pops of yellow and orange on dark purple or black backgrounds. Her mother’s eggs hint at the mastery Andrea would come to achieve: precise strokes, intricate detail, and deep symbolism.
One of Ariadna’s pysanky prominently displays the triple-barred cross of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, indicating the art’s longstanding association with the Easter holidays. Ukrainians, many living on farms, used the materials available to them — eggs, natural dyes, and beeswax — to create personal gifts for friends and family.
“There are a lot of agricultural symbols and geometric patterns with meaning,” explains Andrea. “If you wish for someone to have abundance, give them an egg with wheat on it, or draw a line all the way around as an eternity band for long life.”
But Andrea hasn’t hesitated from stepping beyond that tradition in search of new creative expression. One recent piece, dyed with a backdrop of black, pops with skewed triangles in bright primary colors and white outlines. The effect is coolly modern, like a painting by Mondrian wrapped around an egg.
Pysanky have informed Andrea’s other artistic endeavors at Studio A as well. She works as a graphic designer, producing many of the marketing materials for the River Arts District Artists, and creates lamps with handmade paper shades. “I think that growing up making these eggs has influenced me a lot — for me, it’s all about color and shape and light,” she says.
Just like her mother, Andrea teaches pysanky classes in her studio space. The cabinet along the wall bears a constant witness to this tradition of art, passed unbroken from generation to generation. “It helps people understand the history of the eggs and my own story,” she says. “My mom’s deceased, but she’s still alive here in my heart and my studio.”
Studio A, 344 Depot St. Suite 100, Asheville. For details, call 828-423-6459 or visit ashevillestudioa.com.