(Note to readers: This story originally was published in the December 2003 issue of Electric Consumer.)
When Paul Batz enters what he calls “The Egg Zone,” there’s no telling where he’ll end up or when he’ll get there.
In this oval universe, Batz travels along thin ribbons of wax that en-circle and crisscross the surface of the egg — over and over and over. He weaves intricate patterns, steeped with ancient eternal sym-bols, and brings them to life with rich colorful dyes. And when he emerges from the zone, what once were plain chicken eggs have been skillfully transformed into exquis-ite works of art known as “pysanky.” Pysanky eggs originated in Ukraine centuries ago as a symbolic way to express good wishes to others.
“Now I don’t even think about it … I do it by feel,” said the 38-year-old Batz whose trinity of pysanky Christmas tree ornaments placed first in Electric Consumer’s eighth annual ornament contest. “The egg just takes me for a ride,” he said. “Sometimes I’m surprised by what I’ve done.”
Judges for this year’s contest were impressed by the quality of the lines on the eggs, the colors and symbol-ism, and the amount of work that goes into each egg when selecting Batz’s entry for gold.
Pysanky comes from the Slavic word “to write.” The eggs are created through a multiple-step wax-resist process similar to batik. Patterns are “written” on the egg in wax using a tool called a “kistka.” The wax protects the covered areas from the dye that is applied. By repeating this process with layers of wax and different colors of dye, a multi-colored design is built up and revealed when the egg is finished and the wax is removed.
A Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC consumer from Williams, Batz said the ornament contest has been the most flattering award for his well-decorated eggs.
“I’m very honored,” he said, “because I know the caliber of competition in this contest.”
His comment comes as high praise for Electric Consumer, especially considering where his eggs have gone. His pysanky eggs have gone to the Indiana Statehouse and represented Indiana in an Easter egg display at the White House.
“I was very proud to represent my beloved state,” he said, “but I think I’m more pleased about this one.”
Pysanky eggs are not new to the ornament contest. Batz has entered his pysanky eggs in the contest for several years. In 2001, he won an honorable mention for a wintry snowflake design he created on a goose egg. Also, Jasper County REMC consumer Maria Fedyniak placed third in the inaugural contest in 1996 with a pair of pysanky eggs and is a member of the ornament Hall of Fame. (Maria and her eggs were also featured in a March 1997 Electric Consumer cover story.)
Unlike Maria, a Ukrainian immigrant, Batz has no direct relation to the Eastern European art form he’s come to master. Though a set of great grandparents came from Poland, he said, it was his best friend that originally introduced him to pysanky eggs about 10 years ago.
His friend joined the Eastern Orthodox Church and encouraged him to attend a small class on making the eggs. “I’ve always been fascinated with patterns and Oriental rugs,” Batz said. About the same time, he also came across a National Geographic from 1972 that featured pysanky eggs which captured his eye.
“I kept doing it and doing it, and it became an obsession,” he said. “After a couple of hundred, I got the hang of it and kept doing it.” He said he’s probably made a thousand eggs in the decade he’s practiced the art. “Once I latch onto something, it’s hard for me to let go of it.”
He noted one reason he’s so practiced with pysanky is that he has Asperger syndrome. Asperger’s is a developmental disorder that’s considered a mild form of autism. Those with Asperger’s tend to become absorbed in their special interests.
In a rustic studio beside his home, Batz will work for hours on end practicing pysanky in the “egg zone.” His work table sits in front of a window that looks out over a hollow. He and his wife, Anna, and their six children (aged 2 to 16) live quietly on 90 acres of mostly wooded hillside in western Lawrence County. It’s just a couple miles from where he grew up.
Originally, he went to Purdue University to pursue a career in broadcasting, but he was turned off by the transient lifestyle required for career advancement. “I just decided I wanted to live a rural kind of life,” he said. “I didn’t want to move from city to city. I’m sort of a country guy who keeps to himself most of the time.”
Now, he’s back in school, nearing completion on a master’s degree in elementary education from Indiana University. He hopes to teach first or second grade in the Bedford area. He said he plans to share pysanky eggs with his future classroom students. He’s already given workshops around the state to groups of all ages.
“I’ve committed it to a ministry,” he said. Though he used to sell his eggs, he now mostly donates them to charities and special groups.
He said he also used to be disappointed when his eggs didn’t win in the ornament contest but noted his focus now isn’t on the competition. “It was all about the Ronald McDonald House,” he said when it came to continuing his support of the contest. (Each year, the ornaments are auctioned off and the money given to the Ronald McDonald House in Indianapolis.)
He said pysanky also offers lessons on life to his children and others. Pysanky teaches perseverance and what patience and practice can do. “Eventually, all the walls crumble, and you become good at something,” he said. “You just keep at it, and you conquer the obstacles.”
Story and photos by Richard G. Biever, senior editor