Ukrainian American Artist Lesia Sochor Shares ‘Pysanky’ Paintings at Museum of Russian Icons


The Clinton Museum of Russian Icons is responding to the crisis by reassembling the Sochor exhibit “Pysanka: Symbol of Renewal,” which opened Thursday. The exhibit had already been installed in 2020 and 2021 and was still in storage at the museum when Russia invaded Ukraine.

Ukrainian Easter eggs (one is a “pysanka”, many are “pysanky”) are the subject of Sochor’s paintings. The intricately designed eggs symbolize prosperity, good health, abundance and fertility. When Sochor was a child growing up in Philadelphia, his mother taught him how to dye eggs.

Lesia Sochor, “Pysanky”, 1993, watercolour.Courtesy of Museum of Russian Icons

“All of the scriptures on the eggs were directly associated with all of the symbology and allegorical magic that the egg contained,” Sochor said. “The egg is a trilogy. It’s the shell, right? And then the yellow ones represent the sun, and the white ones represent the moon. So you have this whole universe in this seemingly inanimate object. But, of course, it’s just full of potential new lives.

Lesia Sochor, “Fertility”, 1995, oil on canvas.Courtesy of Museum of Russian Icons

“For the ancients, it was really a sacred object,” she added.

The Museum of Russian Icons is eager to help preserve and celebrate Ukrainian culture.

“People ask if we are affiliated or funded by the Russian government or the Russian Orthodox Church,” said interpretation director Amy Consalvi. “Were not. We are a private non-profit association.

“We want to embrace all aspects of Slavic culture and all Orthodox cultures, not just Russian,” Consalvi added. The museum hastened to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, publishing a statement on its website condemning “military aggression against the sovereign country of Ukraine”.

“We stand with the brave citizens of Ukraine and Russia who oppose this senseless act of war,” it read.

Then the museum revived “Pysanka”.

In addition to paintings by pysanky, the exhibition features works that Sochor produced in response to the unrest in Ukraine – a trio of images of heads with babushkas painted in an icon style, on wood with gold leaf and acrylic, with Cyrillic letters. She did two during the Maidan uprising in 2014, when pro-democracy protests led to the ousting of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych. The third, “Liberty”, with a white babushka, is a response to the current war.

“‘Mir’, written in the brown babushka, means peace,” Sochor said. “The blue is obviously just tears. But the actual title of this is ‘Homeland’ because I was crying for my homeland then, just as I am now. The last one, the white one, I just finish, and it’s “Volia”, which means freedom.

Lesia Sochor, “Freedom”, 2022, acrylic and gold leaf on wood panel. Courtesy of Museum of Russian Icons

The artist still decorates Easter eggs every spring. This year, in the midst of a growing humanitarian crisis – more than 3 million Ukrainians have fled the country since the start of the war – the ritual that Sochor’s mother taught her seems even more important, she said.

“There’s an old legend that says there’s a monster chained to a cliff, and if people get lazy and stop decorating eggs, the chains will loosen,” she said. “If people all stop making eggs, the chains will break and the monster will destroy the world.”

“We need to make more and more eggs this year,” she said. “More than ever.”

PYSANKA: Symbol of renewal

At the Museum of Russian Icons, 203 Union St., Clinton, through July 31.

Here are some works of art exhibited in Massachusetts by artists of Ukrainian descent.

“Mother of God Pokrova”, unknown artist, Ukraine, oil on wood. 1800s. Museum of Russian Icons

Icon of the Mother of God Pokrova, unknown artist, 1800s, oil on wood, Ukraine. Courtesy of Museum of Russian Icons

This representation of the Virgin Mary is Pokrova, a Ukrainian word meaning “Protection of the Mother of God”. “She is considered a protector of the country,” said Amy Consalvi, the museum’s director of interpretation.

She holds a veil called a rushnyk, a sacred Ukrainian textile placed over icons, crosses or graves. The brightly colored image depicts The appearance of Mary to Saint Andrew, in which she removed her veil and held it above a congregation as a talisman of protection.

The museum draped a rushnyk decorated with the tree of life over the icon’s display case. “When a rushnyk hangs in the house,” Consalvi said, “it works like an amulet to protect the family.”

“Geometric Silhouette”, Alexander Archipenko. Bronze, 1913, cast late 1950s. Museum of Fine Arts

Alexander Archipenko, “Geometric Silhouette,” 1913; probably cast in the late 1950s. Metal; bronze with blue and green patina.Estate of Alexander Archipenko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York * Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Archipenko was born in Kyiv in 1887, and studied at art school there as a teenager before moving to Moscow and then Paris, finally settling in New York in 1923. His Cubist sculptures were among those than the Nazis confiscated and labeled “degenerate”. His works were known for their unexpected colors, such as the blue and green patina of “Geometric Silhouette”, an abstract yet figurative piece.

The colors, said Marietta Cambareri, curator of decorative arts and sculpture at the MFA, can echo the brilliance of Byzantine icons dating back to the Middle Ages.

“We think of Russian icons, but there was a big icon school in Kyiv,” Cambareri said. “It was a long tradition, and strongly felt.”

“Total Totality II”, Louise Nevelson, wood, 1959-1968, Harvard Art Museums

Louise Nevelson, “Total Totality II”, 1959–68, painted wood.Harvard Art Museums

Nevelson was born near Kyiv in 1899 and immigrated with her family to Rockland, Maine in 1905 while the Russian Revolution was underway. The Nevelsons were Jews, and pogroms killed Jews in cities like Odessa and Kyiv.

“In Rockland, the Jewish population was quite small,” said Mary Schneider Enriquez, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Harvard Art Museums. “His mother apparently became very depressed. They wore traditional, formal Ukrainian clothes and stood out. His parents kept their roots.

Nevelson made “Total Totality II”, a large mural of stacked wooden boxes painted black, at the height of his success. Wood was a preferred material. His father worked in the lumber trade in Rockland.


Cate McQuaid can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.


Comments are closed.