As a young immigrant a century ago, Luba Perchyshyn’s mother used the metal tip of a shoelace along with homemade dyes to make pysanky, or Ukrainian eggs, for her first Easter in her new home of Minneapolis.
She passed along the craft, which she learned from her grandmother, to her three daughters. They often sat around the dining room table at night using the wax from candles to draw intricate designs.
“Their eggs were exquisite,” said Ann Kmit, Luba Perchyshyn’s niece. “But of the three sisters, Luba was the shining star.”
Perchyshyn not only became a master at pysanky, but she helped keep the tradition alive during an era in which it was suppressed under Soviet rule in Ukraine. She and her family wrote several books about how to make Ukrainian eggs and have sent their egg-decorating supply kits to people around the world through their Ukrainian Gift Shop in Minneapolis. She died Sept. 7 at age 96.
“She was the heart and soul of the business,” said her son, Elko, who runs the gift shop.
Tens of thousands of copies of the books have been sold, passing along the joy of making pysanky to new audiences. The first book is now in its sixth printing, he said.
“Every one of those books had Mom’s designs in there,” he said. “She touched so many lives by doing those books — every time somebody makes one of those designs.”
Perchyshyn was born in Minneapolis. Her father, who was also a Ukrainian immigrant, was a baker. Her brother died in World War II.
She and her mother started the Ukrainian Gift Shop out of their living room in 1947, selling the eggs they made as well as embroidered handkerchiefs and blouses. Over the decades, the store moved to several locations around the city. Today it is run out of a storefront near the North Loop, but most of its business is done through its online store.
Perchyshyn often decorated eggs in the store, enjoying taking time to explain the process to visitors.
“There was something about her work that was a step above what anyone else could do,” said Kmit. “She took risks with the designs. They weren’t merely geometric. She had a flair that was exceptional and her colors were wonderful.”
It could take her anywhere from 45 minutes to several hours to complete an egg. In addition to chicken eggs, she also often decorated goose and ostrich eggs.
Over the years, her eggs were sent to the White House for holidays such as Easter. She visited once herself when one of her eggs was selected to adorn a Christmas tree.
But she remained humble, shying away from calling herself an artist.
“I just make things,” she told the Star Tribune in 2015.
And she never tired of it. After working at the shop, she often came home to make more eggs through the evening.
“It was her art. It was her calling,” said her son. “There’s no other way I can describe it. She had to.”
She continued to make eggs into her later years out of her St. Anthony home, which, her son said, was “like a Ukrainian museum” full of eggs and other items.
“Even at 90, she was still coming up with new designs,” he said. “And she could still put a straight line on an egg.”
Perchyshyn, who was often smiling, lit up a room when she walked into it and had lots of friends, added Kmit.
“When I think of her, I see her bent over working on eggs,” she said. “It was a joy. It was something she loved to do. She was really in her element when she was doing eggs.”
Besides her son, survivors include a daughter, Natalie, four grandchildren and a great grandson. Services have been held.