Jennie Bochar

Lakewood, a suburb on Cleveland’s west side, is home to Hixson’s Floral Barn, a gift shop that boasts many holiday decorations in addition to its flowers. Hixson’s has been owned by Bill Hixson since 1949, and for most of those years it has been a community institution, providing the community with not only a shop selling decorative items but also a location for demonstration, display and teaching about Ukrainian Easter eggs or pysanky. Hixson’s also displays and sells a variety of other decorative eggs during the holiday season, including Chinese eggs and Faberge eggs, but the strength of the local Ukrainian community makes the focus on pysanky a significant element of the Easter holiday tradition.

Cleveland has a large and active Ukrainian community, having come to the area in the late 19th century. At that time, the immigrants settled on the West Side in what is known as the Tremont area. Over the years, more Ukrainians have come to the area, with Parma serving as the locus of the community. The community is entrenched in the Cleveland area, supporting several churches and a Ukrainian cultural organization, the United Ukrainian Organizations of Greater Cleveland (UZO), which supports not only a newspaper but a radio program. (There are several Ukrainian newspapers and radio programs.) A cultural highlight is the Ukrainian Museum-Archives,located in the old Tremont neighborhood in which the Ukrainian community initially settled. The community is very active, sharing with the Cleveland area at large, its cultural practices, foodways and arts.

Several weeks before Easter, the shop begins installing the egg display in the back room of the floral shop. The elaborately decorated eggs are presented for visitors, and Jennie Bochar, a member of the Cleveland Ukrainian community, sets up her supplies to demonstrate the process of making pysanky and discuss the significance behind the elaborate designs that grace the eggs. Pysanky require few specialized supplies: eggs, dye, beeswax, a candle and a kistka (or kistky) are the primary tools. Of those tools, kistka (meaning “bone”) is a drawing or writing tool used to apply heated beeswax to the surface of an egg. Bochar has several, of varying widths, in her toolkit. The basic process of decorating the eggs is a wax relief dye process. Though the artist may not choose to use the egg’s natural shell color, if she did, any designs intended to remain that color would be drawn in warm beeswax with the kistka, and then the egg would be dipped in the lightest color of the design. After the desired depth of color is reached, the egg would be allowed to draw and the elements of the design to remain in that color would be drawn or written on with the kistka. As Bochar demonstrates this hundreds-of-years-old art, she talks with the patrons and explains not only the process, but more importantly the significance of the different elements of the design, religious and cultural symbols, that may be incorporated into the overall design.

For Bochar, the art of pysanky is not simply a cultural tradition of beautiful artwork. Designing and creating the eggs is an expression of religious values important to her. In conversation over the design, she finds opportunities to talk about the values and beliefs that are important to her as a Christian of Ukrainian heritage, and to discuss the history of the art. She tells about the belief that hiding eggs in a house with a thatched roof will prevent a fire. She discusses the practice of not eating eggs during Lent as they contain “life” Or she might tell about the tradition of a priest selecting the prized egg from an Easter basket filled with foods and eggs. Her stories engage listeners as they watch her craft the vibrantly colored, detailed eggs.

Hixson’s provides the space for this important cultural event that has become a tradition for the community. People arrange their holiday travels around the display to experience the beauty and significance of the works to their creators, like Jennie Bochar.

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