Beulah Shindelar and Eunice Wermers fell in love with the Czech culture after they moved to Spillville. Eunice, a German breed native of Miltown, S.D. moved to Spillville in 1974 and quickly immersed herself in the Czech culture by taking varies Czech folk-art classes. Beulah, a Norwegian from north of Decorah came to the little Czech town in 1951 and had quite a culture shock, but soon fit in. Beulah recalls going into stores and people would ask her in Czech what she was looking for. Now, they are well known for their Czech folk-art craft of Kraslice that they do in beautiful downtown Spillville.
You may be more familiar with the word Pysanky, which is the ancient Eastern European art of egg decorating. The Czech word for it is Kraslice. The eggs weren’t made just for Easter, but year round. It is said that “The delicate time consuming craft was at one time made specifically for one person and would have a design and color that describes that person. Many times a girl would make a decorated egg for her boyfriend. A stylus tool called a kistka is used to write with wax on the egg shell.” Pysanky/Kraslice uses a wax-resist process. The process is similar to batik.
In 1987, teacher Laurie Thompson taught a class in adult education at NICC. Eunice was excited to take the class and recruited others, including Beulah, so there was enough for the class. They liked it so well they took another class with Czech artist Marj Nejdl in Cedar Rapids. Eunice began selling her beautiful craft at The Old World Inn and at the Bily Clocks in Spillville. Eunice has designed her own patterns and one of her best sellers is the one she calls the “Dvorak Egg” with music notes and a bird called scarlet tanager on it besides other decorations. In 1996 Beulah began selling her eggs at Agora Arts until her late husband John died and she developed a cataract. Now, after surgery she is thinking of getting back into it. The ladies have taught small classes all the way to Harmony MN and also have presented historic/craft demonstrations at places like the Bily Clocks. Their star student, April Schmitt of Ft. Atkinson, now teaches the craft at area schools, organizations, and taught an adult education class in West Union. There are pattern books you can buy to design your egg. They blow out the egg and wax the hole before they dye their eggs. The ladies explained that you always start with the lightest color, usually white. Each color has a special meaning. White means purity. Everything that you want to remain white, you cover with wax, using the “kistka” tool.
They explained, “The ladies use an electric kistka tool. Then, you dye the egg, usually yellow, which signifies moon or stars. Wherever there is wax, the yellow dye will not be able to penetrate. On your yellow egg, you mark with wax all the parts of the design that you want to remain yellow. Then dye it in the next dye bath, going in progressively darker colors, and add more wax. Green color would be used to represent spring or rebirth. Orange describes power or endearment. Red means happiness, bravery, or love.”
“The usual final color is black which highlights the other colors,” explained Beulah. In the end, you will have an egg with a great deal of wax on it - if black is your finishing color, you will end up with a virtually black egg. Then, using the side of a candle flame, you melt away the wax, revealing the colors that were protected underneath. Then the egg is varnished. This results in a brilliantly colored and often very intricately designed egg.
Check each spring at NICC Adult Education. Often, April Schmitt of Fort Atkinson teaches this fun and beautiful folk art using eggs.