The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

In the Spotlight

April 4, 2014

Richland woman egg-cels at intricate Ukrainian art

JOHNSTOWN — While most people do their Easter egg decorating from a box or bottle, Paulett Simunich of Richland Township works with the intricate art of pysanky.

Pysanky are eggs decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs using a wax-resist (batik) method, which is written on with beeswax.

Simunich said the practice dates to ancient times when onion skins, bark, beet skins, herbs and tea would have been used for coloring.

Beeswax is applied with a stylus, or kitska, and color baths begin with the lightest colors of white and yellow and end with the darkest colors, red and black.

“You can follow a pattern or make your own,” Simunich said.

Simunich, who is 69, is known for teaching pysanky classes at this time of year at Bottle Works, but she began teaching with own family at a young age.

After learning the art of pysanky next to her bubba’s wood stove, Simunich taught some of her cousins and their mothers when she was 12 or 13.

“I got a kit from family in New York City and taught myself more,” Simunich said. “My mother and father loved that I did it and were always asking me to make an egg for one of their friends.”

Simunich attended  Holy Trin­ity Byzantine Greek Catholic Church in Conemaugh before mar­rying her husband and attending St. Rochus Roman Catholic Church, where she continued her pysanky.

“Mothers were waiting for their children in CCD (religious education) class, so I showed them how to paint,” she said. “We got thorn trees from Browns­town hill and coiled wire into the eggs to hang them on the egg trees.”

Simunich also taught her egg art at Boscov’s, Pitt-Johnstown, area schools and for Junior Girl Scouts.

She displayed her work at an ethnic weekend at UPJ and ethnic days at The Galleria and St. Rochus.

Simunich will still craft a pysanky egg for $20 and puts dates on her many creations.

In 2009, Simunich and her son visited Slovakia for the first time, traveling to the county of Slis and the village of Jarabina, where her bubba was born.

 “It was a guided trip, but we took a day off to go to Jarabina,” Simunich said. “That’s also where Sgt. Michael Strank (the Franklin Marine who helped raise the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima) was born. It’s a peasant village in the Carpathian Mountains.”

Simunich got to visit the church attended by relatives from both sides of her family.

That September, a cousin she met in Jarabina came to the United States to visit cousins in New York. In 2011, Simunich and her son returned for the first Salony family reunion, which New York relatives also attended. In 2012, the same cousin visited Simunich in Johnstown for eight days.

While visiting, Simunich’s cousin repaired a leather, hand-embroidered wedding vest dating to the late 1890s that had belonged to her bubba.

Simunich was chosen to be a bottle artist for Bottle Works in 2009. For her contribution, she painted some eggs and arranged them artistically in a bottle.

When Pennsylvania Council on the Arts named 2010 to 2011 Folk Art Year, Simunich’s eggs were chosen to be in a traveling exhibit that was at Bottle Works in February 2011.

Simunich also is a member of Johnstown Stamp Club and Johnstown Art League. She has not found a stamp depicting pysanky, but loves the beauty of the costume stamps she collects from European countries.

She also crochets afghans, scarves and lap robes and works with embroidery and cross-stitch.

“I’m always working with my hands, but pysanky is my passion,” Simunich said. “I’m settled in to do this now.”

Simunich is a member of Bottle Works and used to go to water exercise classes at the YWCA. She is a volunteer for Cambria County Area Agency on Aging, working as a facilitator for healthy living classes. She  visits nursing homes to make sure residents are receiving what they need.

Simunich also is involved with a new program called Apprise, which is geared to help seniors through the transition period of the Affordable Care Act.

“This program is very important to me,” Simunich said.

Her family includes her husband, Tom; a son, Tom, who lives in Johnstown; a daughter, Bethany, who lives in Akron, Ohio; and the family’s 18-year-old cat, Maggie.

“Pets add something you can’t get anywhere else,” Simunich said.

Ruth Rice covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at Twitter.com/RuthRiceTD.

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