PYSANKA: MONTANA WOMAN'S EGG ART

Will become part of permanent White House collection
alt
  On Laird's Montana egg, shown 
  in three views, mountain rise to
  meet blue skies

by Donna Healy,
photos by Larry Mayer
of the Gazette Staff,
the Billings Gazette,
Billings, Montana


Libby Laird's Ukrainian Easter eggs are no longer  as intricate as they once were but they may
be more precious. In April one of her  eggs will represent the state of Montana at the annual
Easter egg display in the White House Visitors Center.
  She is honored to have her egg join the
White House's permanent collection. She is far more grateful for the surgery that restored her
eyesight.
In mid-September, Laird was startled by a request  from the American Egg Board to decorate an
egg. The Board which contributes 7,200 eggs for the White House Easter Egg Roll has coordinated
an annual egg-art display for the past decade.  The eggs, one from each state and the district of
Columbia, go on display in the Visitors Centre for five weeks, starting April 1. Afteward, they become
part of the White House permanent collection and will eventually be housed in a presidential library's
collection.


Laird, who works for an advertising agency in Billings, approached the assignment with excitement and a bit of trapidation.
Since the 1970s, she has taught students to intricate Ukrainian Easter eggs known as pysanky. But two years ago, Laird lost her eyesight
from complications of diabetes. Aneurisms caused blood vessels in her eyes to rupture and hemmorrhage. Blood clouded her eyes like thick,
dark oil. "I was two-fingers blind. I could not see two fingers in front of my face. I was white-cane blind for about six months," she said.
She went through six surgeries to restore her sight. Although her vision is back to 20/50, scars left from those surgeries and prior surgeries
have left "holes" in her eyesight. A diabetic for 28 years, Laird has undergone 19 eye surgeries, including two operations to remove cataracts.

alt
   Laird shows a prototype of
   the Easter egg she made for
   display at the White House
    With the help of a magnifying glass she can still work on the Ukrainian eggs which use a wax-resist
    technique. A cone shaped tool known as kistka funnels a thin line of melted wax onto the egg. Like
    batik on cloth, layers of wax protect one color from the next color of dye.
    On her White House egg, mountains rise to meet the blue skies of Big Sky country.
    "I am grateful every day I can see," Laird said. " And I am grateful every day I can see the
     mountains because I love the mountains".
     Other Montana images fill the White House egg.
    "What I really wanted to do was to use the Ukrainian style of decorating, but making it truly
     Montanan by using Montana themes," she said.

     A stylized Ukrainian deer grazed in a meadow because Montana is known as a place where deers
     and antelops play. In Ukrainian design simple cross-hatched lines represent Christ's crown of thorns.

     "I thought they looked like barbed wire," Laird says.
alt
     With the aid of a magnifier
    Libby Laird works on an egg

     Images of state symbols, including the meadowlark,
    the bitterroot flower, and the Ponderosa pine, made it onto
    the egg.
But the fish are generic fish rather than the state's
    cutthroat trout. By dyeing
the fish red she  was able to
    juxtapose dark and light colors to make the design stand
 out.
She pictured the Rimrocks to symbolize Billings and used feathers in the center band to
 represent Montana's  Indian tribes. Another traditional Ukrainian symbol represents wheat.
 Before producing the finished egg and shipping it to Washington, Laird made eight prototypes.

 "I did not keep all of them," she said.
The first egg's horisontal bands accentuated the wobbles caused by her limited vision. She switched
to vertical bands.
"I know that this egg isn't perfect," she said. "Some of the lines aren't as straight
as they could be, but looking through a magnifier doesn't help your depth perception".
In Ukrainian tradition, time spent doing the eggs is considered an act of prayer.
"It's like being in touch with God," she said.
The invitation to decorate Montana's egg came with an invitation to visit Washington for a special
White House tour in conjunction with the exhibit's opening.For the past two years, the white House
 has featured pictures of the eggs on its website. Last year's egg showing a beaded Montana flag,
 was done by a woman in Texas.
"The American Egg Board apparently had difficulty locating a Montana egg decorator," Laird said.
The Board's promotion coordinator tracked down Laird by calling art-supply stores. 
Since moving to Billings in 1998, Laird has taught classes on Ukrainian egg decorating techniques
through McIntosh Art and through her church, St. Luke's Episcopal.

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