Ballwin artist’s Ukrainian Easter eggs are a hit
Katherine Alexander makes Ukrainian Easter eggs — and that’s earned her not only a huge following on TikTok, but also helped her raise more than $6,000 to help Ukraine.
But Alexander had neither thing in mind when she began getting serious about the art form. She’d learned how to make what’s called pysanky from her Polish mother, then put it behind her to focus on her career as a music educator. She spent nearly a decade as orchestra director for the Webster Groves School District.
Then, after leaving her job to take care of her children, she found herself with too much energy in the evenings. Returning to pysanky gave her something to do with her hands — and an outlet for her creative energy.
“About five years ago, that's when I started making them almost compulsively every night,” she recalled on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “I had to get to 8 o'clock when the boys were tucked in and I could work on this art.”
Alexander doesn’t just make decorative eggs, although she makes (and sells) many of those. She also uses the eggs as the building blocks for gorgeous handcrafted jewelry, adding layers of resin to make them durable. She also smashes the eggs to reconfigure them into mosaics.
“I’m very much experimental,” she acknowledged. But, “the foundation is classic.”
For Alexander, the art was a hobby until she decided to get serious toward the end of 2019. She incorporated her business and began applying for art shows only to find that plan dashed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But disappointment quickly turned to opportunity when she found an eager audience for her work on TikTok. The “big reveal” of a classic pysanky proved perfect for the medium.
“Right before the reveal, it’s just an ugly, blobby mess of wax,” she explained. “And then I blow it off with a heat gun, which is a great moment. And then those colors start to shine through. And it's mesmerizing. It's very much under the ‘oddly satisfying’ category.” Now, she has 280,000 followers — and many of her videos have more than 1 million views.
Alexander has also joined the cadre of Ukrainian Easter egg artists using their art to raise money for Ukraine. She said initially she felt like she couldn’t make art with all the suffering that followed the nation’s invasion. She was able to return to the work after seeing that the eggs she auctioned off could become a source of financial support for the Ukrainian people.
She now sees a connection between the art form and what the Ukrainian people are now enduring — one that goes beyond psyanky’s Eastern European roots.
“It’s about doing something that is worthwhile for the wait,” she said. “We don't see the results immediately.” But in time, Alexander hopes, she will.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.