About the Artists
A group of Bay Area friends simultaneously came up with an idea born of the current crisis: make pysanky as art therapy and to benefit the people of Ukraine. Word spread from artist to artist and among the Eastern European community here in the East Bay. Soon, gatherings and pysanky-making occurred.
The “Peaceanky” artists encourage friends and neighbors to support the Ukrainian people, to learn about the folk art of Ukraine, and to perhaps try their own hand at this traditional craft (see instructional videos on Vimeo and YouTube) so that peace may prevail and evil may be dispelled.
Marcie Gutierrez, an Oakland-based architect, has hosted an annual pysanky-making gathering at her home for decades. Initially considering it a social event, she later transformed the crafting extravaganza into a fundraising endeavor for Escuela Bilingüe Internacional (EBI), an independent East Bay PreK–8 school offering a multilingual, international education. She served in the Peace Corps in Russia with Erin Coyne (see below).
Michelle Hlubinka, a Czech raised in the United States, worked with Berkeley city officials and the Elmwood Business Association to secure the storefront where the artistic group is displaying the pysanky that they and other local women crafted. “The fragility of these laboriously crafted eggs provides an apt metaphor for this political moment, when Russia’s egregious acts against a sovereign neighbor have jeopardized everyone’s sense of peace, security, and freedom,” says Hlubinka. “Watching the tanks roll into Kyiv stirs deep, familial anxieties of the Prague Spring that led my parents and brother to flee the Soviets, just over 50 years ago. The bombed-out buildings I see in the news look just like the apartment blocks where my cousins, aunts, and uncles still live in the Czech Republic.”
Elaine Dykman, an Oakland resident originally from the East Coast, learned the art of pysanky-making (or “pysankarstvo”) as a child from her mother, Maria Kalakura Kruelski. Maria, a second-generation Ukrainian, shared this tradition with family and friends, as well as taught classes throughout the state of Connecticut for several decades. Many of the Ukrainian embroideries and decorative folk art in the Berkeley display were created by Elaine’s grandmother, who emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine in 1913. “I am honored to embrace my heritage, work with this group, and contribute to pysanky for peace.”
Kristen Policy–a photographer, web designer and Berkeley hen-keeper created the website and logo for the East Bay “Peaceanky” initiative, set up the online auction, and provided many colorful and freshly-laid eggs. "My heritage does not trace back to anywhere in Eastern Europe, but my heart goes out to the people of Ukraine and it's an honor to be included in this endeavor."
Casondra Sobieralski, like Gutierrez, enjoys a heritage that is half Eastern European and grew up in Pennsylvania. Many Eastern European immigrants settled there starting in the 1870s, typically to work in coal mines and steel mills. She says, “Near UC Berkeley, ATMs offer English, Spanish, and Mandarin as language choices. Near Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the ATMs offer English, Polish, Slovak, Ukrainian, Russian, and Czech.” Referencing the ancient “warrior women” of the southern Russian steppes, this archaeology enthusiast says, “Xena was real, and she lived in Ukraine. As a warrior woman, I think she would want everyone to fight evil with pysanky.”
Erin Coyne has immediate family in Kyiv, and she served in the Peace Corps in Russia with Marcie Gutierrez. Coyne also spent years in Ukraine working for non-profits. She has been making pysanky with Marcie from the earliest years of the East Bay gatherings.
Anelise Dandler is a ceramic artist, crafter and former baker. Global citizen, currently rooted in Berkeley; admirer of textiles, prints, folk art and all things handmade. Inspired by Marcie, she discovered Pysanky not long ago and has honed her skills at yearly gatherings. "The artistry of Pysanky is infinite and the act of making them in community is grounding. In this dire global moment, artists can unite our intentions and hands to help send positive energy and some resources to Ukraine."
Three friends—Barbora Studihradová, Veronika Blankenship, and Ludmila Kukalová—connected with the effort when Hlubinka spread word about the event to a local Czechs and Slovaks group. Decorating Easter eggs with wax-resist dyed method is a tradition throughout the region, including their homeland of Czechia. The three chatted in their native tongue for the six hours of the egg-decorating event. Barbora and Veronika worked on typical Ukrainian designs while Ludmila reproduced a typical Czech one. Veronika even brought a treat for the artists to sample at the egg-making event — a homemade “mazanec” sweet Easter bread resembling the Ukrainian “paska” loaf.
Amy Hsieh, a Peninsula-based fundraiser originally from Pennsylvania, grew up in a neighborhood full of people of Eastern European descent just as Gutierrez and Sobieralski did. She made pysanky with friends’ families as a child. “Even though I’m Taiwanese American, I grew up making pysanky because I was born in southeastern Pennsylvania. Holding these eggs in my hands, I felt the connection to my birth roots, as we can have deep emotional connections to culture and practices that may not be our own.”