DATELINE NEW YORK: Decorated egg masterpieces are on a roll

by Helen Smindak

If Mark Yurkiw's hopes come true, the huge Easter egg he created with the help of his art studio craftsmen could raise millions of dollars for children's cancer research. For the time being, however, the project is on hold.

Mr. Yurkiw, 49, both a fine and commercial artist whose studio was located near ground zero in Manhattan until the 9/11 tragedy, created the special egg at the request of White House artist Herb Schwartz.

Inspired by the annual egg roll on the White House lawn that originally took place outside the U.S. Capitol building 132 years ago, the fiberglass egg is shaped in the form of the Capitol dome. Adorned with porticos and columns, it is topped by a replica of the Statue of Freedom that stands atop the dome. The concept was developed by Mr. Yurkiw from his childhood training in decorating Ukrainian Easter eggs with symbols of hope and aspirations for a new life.

Already signed by some 260 members of Congress, the egg awaits the signatures of U.S. Senators, members of the House of Representatives, Supreme Court justices, Vice-President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush.

In 2001 the egg was viewed by thousands during the Easter egg roll on the South Lawn of the White House, together with a five-foot-high fiberglass pysanka hand-decorated with Ukrainian symbols by artist Christina Saj of Bloomfield, N.J.

Original plans called for the completed egg to be displayed at the nation's top museums, then auctioned off to raise funds for children's cancer research. Now, with government officials overwhelmed with international and national concerns, the four-foot high, two-foot diameter egg has been placed in storage, together with its metal tripod stand.

Hopeful that the project will eventually reach fruition, Mr. Yurkiw is forging ahead with other business pursuits. He has made a radical change from a hands-on studio approach in conducting commercial business to using the Internet as a full-partner tool in taking care of all aspects of his work.

In the 25 years since he started his business in the basement of his parents' home in Astoria, Queens, his studio has moved from lower Fifth Avenue to Broadway to Varick Street, just 10 blocks away from what has become known post 9/11 as Ground Zero.

The Varick Street enterprise, called The Group Y, continued to turn out the unique three-dimensional designs used in advertising for which Mr. Yurkiw has become noted - a model of the Empire State Building under construction, for use in a Lee Jeans commercial in Europe; a heart of barbed wire, for the cover of an Esquire magazine issue that carried an article on the thorny and bitter road of divorce; a huge Zyban pill crushing a pack of cigarettes, for a magazine photo promoting the use of Zyban in breaking the smoking habit.

Among Mr. Yurkiw's outstanding projects are images communicating messages, such as a barefoot Statue of Liberty crouched with her arms around herself during a snowstorm. Produced for the winter coat donation drive by New York Cares, the message brought in 44,000 coats during its first year.

Mr. Yurkiw also created the world's first solar-powered lighthouse, which won a nationwide art competition in 2000. Located at the mouth of the Hudson River near the Statue of Liberty, the 200-foot glass pyramid-topped tower is filled with giant fireflies that collect energy all day and blink to ships and planes coming through New York harbor at night. The tower, part of the Liberty Science Museum, was created to inspire the children who visit the museum to think about how to use renewable energy.

When Group Y's landlord decided to triple the studio rent, soon after the World Trade Center disaster, Mr. Yurkiw decided it was time to quit New York's untenable high rents and latch on to the future - the Internet. Group Y became history, and was born.

In a recent interview, Mr. Yurkiw explained: "I'm a three-dimensional designer now, an idea man and a problem solver. My clients contact me at, and I transmit digital pictures to them."

"That allows me a great deal of mobility, because I can be anywhere; I just need access to the Internet," he continued. "After 25 years in the business, I know whom to contact to do what I want, to niche people who are experts in one little aspect, and I am able to bring all these things together in a finished piece easily and quickly. It puts everything on a very fast track."

We talked in Werner Bargsten's spacious studio/workshop called I.C.B.A. (It Can Be Anything), a studio located in Jersey City just across the Hudson from lower Manhattan and used by Mr. Yurkiw as a production facility. I had a chance to listen in as Mr. Bargsten and Mr. Yurkiw held a brief conference on a fascinating new project - a series of five-foot-high metal/plastic sculptures with built-in effects (rotating motors, electro-magnets and lighting) that would show doctors how a new Schering drug works on cancer cells in the body.

Mr. Yurkiw believes that the Internet is the only way that business will be conducted in the future. "Before the Internet, the world was oriented geographically, now everyone is everywhere. Our world is changing in ways that we have yet to imagine. It's always been a promise that we've heard, but now it's here."

The New York native, son of Anna Yurkiw of Astoria and the late George Yurkiw, who immigrated here from the Lviv area after World War II, credits his physics prof. at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan for his interest in physics. He also studied at Hunter College, took summer courses at Queens College, and put in a year of graduate work before leaving to start up his company.

New projects coming up in the future of include what could be "the eighth wonder of the world," a bridge incorporating the Arabic art style with high technology. Architects working for the Sheik of Dubai have asked Mr. Yurkiw to work with an Arabic art historian to create the structure.

And Mr. Yurkiw's design for a memorial to the victims of 9/11, planned for the World Trade Center area, is up for consideration before the city's memorial committee.

In the meantime, he's not giving up on the congressional egg. He firmly believes its day will come. When it does, it will be the only artifact besides the Declaration of Independence to be signed by all of the nation's top leaders.

Reuters re pysanky

The Reuters news service took note of Ukrainian pysanky earlier this month. Reuters business columnist Richard Chang wrote that "decorated eggs are on a roll, with a jewel-encrusted Fabergé (egg) selling for a record $9.5 million last year, and a prolific burst of new masterpieces using materials as humble as dyes, wax and beads."

Mr. Chang wrote that decorations on eggs have become more elaborate through the years, growing from ancient symbols such as stars, dots, circles, wheat and deer "in the popular Ukrainian folk style called pysanky," to the eye-popping gemstones that jeweler Peter Fabergé used in his commissions for the Russian imperial family.

As examples of Ukrainian egg-decorating artistry, Mr. Chang pointed to Dennis Kowalesky of Connecticut, who teaches workshops on pysanky, and Luba Perchyshyn, who owns the Ukrainian Gift Shop in Minneapolis.

Ms. Perchyshyn, 79, was commissioned to create an egg Christmas ornament for the White House last year, according to Chang. He said she "wrote" layer after layer of dyes and wax on an ostrich egg to fashion the masterpiece that she values at $300, featuring a loon, the Minnesota state bird.

Mr. Kowalesky told the columnist he believes the value of pysanky will increase over time. "Most people aren't willing to give them up, though. It's hard to appraise them. They're not an 'Antiques Roadshow' type of thing," he said, referring to the popular appraisal program on the Public Broadcasting System.

Despite his extensive research on decorated eggs, Mr. Chang overlooked such well-known decorators as Yaroslava Surmach Mills and Sofia Zielyk and a leading pysanka supplier, the Surma Book Store, all from New York City. And how about The Ukrainian Museum's glorious pysanka exhibit and egg-decorating demos and classes?

Khoma and friends

The Ukrainian Institute's "Music at the Institute" series, offering world-renowned performers, is so popular that one can always count on seeing a packed house of MATI regulars, with a good representation of young people and American music lovers, at each session.

This season's final concert, held April 12, was no exception. Showcasing cellist Natalia Khoma and her friends - violinist Yuri Kharenko, violist Daniel Panner, and pianists Jerome Rose and Volodymyr Vynnytsky - the concert drew tremendous accolades from listeners.

Ms. Khoma and her friends offered a passionate and vibrant program that featured Rachmaninoff's "Trio Elegiaque No. 2" in D Minor, Op. 9, Brahms Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 60 and a 1968 piece by Ivan Karabyts, dedicated to composer Borys Liatoshynsky, Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano."

The Rachmaninoff work, though extremely long, proved to be the hit of the evening. Replete with variations in tempo and volume, lyrical passages and dramatic flourishes, the piece was given a masterful performance by Ms. Khoma, Mr. Vynnytsky and Mr. Kharenko.

The full, mellow tones of Ms. Khoma's cello were heard to wonderful effect in the Karabyts Sonata, played by Ms. Khoma and Mr. Vynnytsky, as well as in her elegant solo work in the Andante section of the Brahms piano quartet. For the Brahms work, Ms. Khoma was joined by Mr. Rose, Mr. Kharenko and Mr. Panner.

Ms. Khoma, winner of the All-Ukrainian Competition in 1981, has taken top prizes in numerous international competitions. A distinguished recitalist and soloist with orchestras around the world, she is a member of the faculty of Michigan State University School of Music. Since the year 2000, she has served as organizer of the Children and Music Foundation, a program dedicated to the memory of Dr. Wolodymyr Czyzyk of Chicago that provides musical training, instruments and financial aid to gifted young Ukrainian music students.

In thanking the performers, UIA board member Jaroslav Kryshtalsky also expressed the institute's gratitude to four ladies whose work "behind the scenes" contributed to the season's success. Bouquets of flowers were presented to Valida Suk (referred to as "the heart of MATI"), Luba Shegedyn, Marta Skorupska Gerulak and Christine Karpevych.

The MATI programs are organized by Mykola Suk, artistic director; Taras Shegedyn, executive director; and Virko Baley, artistic advisor.

UIA art exhibits

With the MATI concert season over, art exhibits are taking the stage at the institute. Gennady Parfeniouk's exhibit of sculpture, graphics and computer collages - "The Sphere: Its Metamorphosis and Synthesis with Architecture" - which closed on April 5, has been succeeded by Oleh Denysenko's "Art Chemistry" show of etchings, surrealistic figures and playful compositions. Mr. Denysenko's exhibit opened on April 24 and will run through the early summer.

Walter Hoydysh, UIA vice-president and director of programs, has anounced plans for two new exhibits in May. Marko Shuhan's "33/6 Paint" exhibit, occupying the major part of the institute's exhibition space with recent works that reveal "an unfettered facility reminiscent of Pollock and de Kooning," will run from May 2 to 11.

Mr. Hoydysh says that an exhibit scheduled to open May 15 will feature the work of Anton Kandinsky, the Ukrainian-born grandson of renowned abstract painter and theorist Vassily Kandinsky, generally regarded as the originator of abstract art.

As part of its "Renaissance of Kyiv" year, the Ukrainian Institute of America will introduce the art of three fashion designers from Ukraine with a preview of fashions during a Hudson River boat ride on June 6 and a by-invitation-only fashion show at the institute building on June 7.

Helen Smindak's e-mail address is

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 27, 2003, No. 17, Vol. LXXI

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