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A Lifelong Love for an Ancient Tradition Inspires Pysanky Artist

Pysanky usually isn’t a word in a toddler’s vocabulary.

Jennifer Domal is the exception or perhaps exceptional is the better term to describe her passion for the art of pysanky, the Ukrainian tradition of decorating hollowed out eggs with geometric and floral designs. At 11 years old, Jennifer was making a sizeable profit exhibiting at church bazaars. She can’t remember learning how, but she was a pysanky artist at age 3. Today Jennifer is a regular at Rose Squared Art shows, where her exquisitely detailed work is worth a stop and stare.

“This art form that I do is on real blown eggs,” she says. “There are many ways of decorating eggs that you can find throughout the world, especially in Eastern and Central Europe. I decorate using molten beeswax directly on real egg shells from poultry and dyes. It’s a wax resist process. When the wax is removed, a brilliant design is revealed.”

The daughter of two teachers, Jennifer graduated cum laude from West Chester University with a degree in Music Education — Percussion, once considered a guy’s domain. As much as she would have loved performance, she chose retail management and customer service — jobs that offered the flexibility for her to continue the art form introduced to her at the family’s kitchen table.

“The pleasure that I have in doing this is exactly the same thing that strangers to the new art form feel,” says Jennifer, who later earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Arts. “It’s not just that I grew up with it. It is something that is global and communal. There’s an accessibility and a lifting up to this art form.”

Pysanky, which has been practiced for centuries, is especially popular throughout Eastern and Central Europe and often celebrated during Lent and Holy Week. The dazzling eggs are ideal gifts, often chosen to match the character of the recipient.

It all starts with an egg, and Jennifer, a Chester County, Pennsylvania resident, sources almost all of her eggs locally. Farmers set them aside for her. She bought a few special ones that date back 40 years at an estate sale. At a recent show in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a customer asked why she only had two emu eggs. “That’s all I have left,” she said, noting the laying season had long passed. He offered to share more than 100 emu eggs with her.

“I have a friend with a goose who saves eggs for me,” Jennifer says. Another artist provided a medium ostrich egg, the largest variety Jennifer works with. Her tiniest ones, button quail eggs, are less than a half inch long. “They’re amazingly strong and so beautiful,” she says.

Eggs in hand, Jennifer sorts to choose the strongest ones before candling them. They must be drilled, emptied, sanitized inside and dried. She checks for breakage during each step and candles again. One complicating element: Jennifer is highly allergic to eggs so she must dress in something similar to a HazMat suit to complete the first steps.

“If I can empty the eggs outside, that’s optimum because I don’t have to worry about egg splashes in the house,” she says.

Jennifer uses a manual tool called a kistka heated by a flame to draw her designs with the molten wax, relying on a steady hand, challenging given her arthritis. Her designs range from the traditional to the whimsical — her  Santas are enchanting. “It’s been my favorite outlet of art. If you look at any of my drawings or paintings or even my sculptures, you can see a strong folk, ethnic influence.”

As finicky as she is about the eggs she uses, Jennifer is equally persnickety about the wax. Instead of the commercial route, she buys a local beeswax with a delightful aroma. “I believe in reduce, reuse, recycle, using what is near you,” she says. “It’s part of the aesthetic choices I make.”

Jennifer is also an innovator in using acid safely to properly etch the surface of eggs. She’s shared the method globally among egg groups that meet online. “That has transformed decorating eggs, and it has also made decorating naturally colored eggs a possibility,” she says.

Sometimes Jennifer uses gold in her work, a process that involves shell gold and an agate to burnish it onto the egg shell, a practice that dates back to medieval monks. “It’s not gold leaf,” she says. “I’m using the gold itself and the burnishing of an agate to make it stick to the roughness of the egg.”

In addition to exhibiting her work, Jennifer teaches pysanky classes in her community. “It’s an incredibly supportive art,” she says. “You might think you’ve messed up and immediately people will tell you the 16 ways you did not.”

Look for Jennifer’s booth at several Rose Squared Art shows this year, including Spring Rittenhouse Square (May 10-12), Spring Brookdale Park (June 15-16) and Chase Center (July 27-28).