Friday, April 1, 2011

Easter Egg (Velikonoční vajíčka) Waxing, Ceramics, and tasty treats in Plastovice, Czech Republic

We were invited to Plastovice, Czech Republic (see July/August 2010 postings), a 650 year-old village near Ceske Budejovice, to join in with our friend Dasa's ceramics group for an Easter (Velikonoce) art venue to learn Bohemian methods of egg waxing, paint some ceramic spring animals, or make our own.
Well, it was quite the group of artisans assembled along with many children, making it a festive affair!

As we entered the door, the greeter offered us tea (čaj) or coffee (cafe) along with traditional Czech cakes. What foodie wouldn't like that? There were different kinds of ginger cake (pernik), which is a traditional Bohemian dessert.....a gentle blending of ginger, a little brown sugar or honey (Czech desserts are not very sweet, thankfully!) and sprinkled with powdered sugar (cukr Moučka). There were several types to try, all being made by the chefs in the ceramics group!  This one was a dense, moist cake....with gentle flavors
While these two perniks were lighter with a bit more ginger flavor (served on beautiful Bohemian ceramic plates, too!). Both were delicious with a cup of tea!
This was more like a crumb cake (drobek dort) gently tossed with Bohemian or Moravian walnuts with a hint of lemon background:
Oatmeal cookies (ovesné sušenky) delighted the tastebuds...again, not very sweet.
And then, the ultimate surprise--when we first looked at these, we though a yellow cake with dried fruit, right? No! It was more like a cornbread, slightly sweet (most likely with honey), with chocolate chunks and dried fruit, sprinkled with powdered sugar. Delightful!

These were more like Russian tea cakes with a few nuts and dusted with powdered sugar...

First we looked at the ceramic spring animals made by the ceramics group and already fired. These were for acrylic painting. Each were handmade by an artisan in the ceramics group, so often they varied in how they looked (which made it fun!).

The lambs were perhaps the most varied and cute with their various expressions (even a couple were somewhat disabled, but happy):

The serious artists were busy at work, painting up their treasures!

Or, if you were so inclined, you could roll out fresh clay and create your own fauna or flora which would then have to be fired and then painted on your next visit back here to the ceramics workshop!

We chose to focus on learning the Bohemian egg waxing techniques, as that took the entire time we were there (we took some fired ceramic creatures home to paint later!). Here are some examples of what we're going to decorate. This technique can be used with white or brown hen eggs, duck and goose eggs, etc. (all options were available).
Prior to coming to the ceramics workshop, everyone was supposed to take eggs for decorating and empty them out by drilling a small hole in both ends and blowing out the contents, leaving the fine white member intact underneath the shell. These were then to be completely dried for several days before being decorated with colored waxes. Here are some dried out, emptied eggs:
For additional decorating options, multiple holes were drilled through the dried shells to highlight the wax decorations that will be added on now.

Now small amounts of colored wax are heated up in metal spoons. Once it is hot, you take a brush handle or piece of wood that has a small-headed pin inserted into it; this is heated in the flame to get very hot and then put into the hot wax. One then quickly makes designs (curves, curls, lines, etc.) around the drilled holes or elsewhere on the egg shells. You have to work fast and have very steady hands in order for this to work. Otherwise the wax hardens too fast and nothing ends up on the shell!
Here, an expert artisan quickly creates colorful wax patterns around the egg:

Ok, so we're ready to try it and see whether we can learn the techniques!

Dasa shows Mark how it is done:

Neil then tries his hand at it....not as easy as it looks! (He had to borrow a set of Mark's glasses because he had forgotten his...).
Neil watches 'the expert' who is here to teach everyone how to do this. She has done this for ~10 years although, as she says, this is not as important for skill-building as the number of eggs that have been waxed! She does this flawlessly with great's almost dizzying!

Here are examples of what the teacher has created (these are for sale, of course). She also sells these at the Ceske Budejovice Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings that we go to!
The greatest contrast with white wax shows up with the brown or other colored eggs:
And then, the extremely fancy ones that were covered with woven crocheting and Bohemian beadwork. She also covered some with woven copper wire....without breaking the fragile egg shells!
You should try this at home and see what you can make...
Veselé Velikonoce, Happy Easter to all...from South Bohemia and Plastovice where ancient crafts are revitalized!

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.