Romanian immigrant practices egg-painting art from homeland

Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Eggs are everywhere in Ida Camelia Groetsema's home, but the orbs weren't dropped there by a bunny and they aren't evident only at Easter time.

''For us, it's always Easter,'' Groetsema said as she gazed at the painted eggs on stands, in baskets and in display cases.

A Romanian, Groetsema came to Fairbanks with her son last July to marry Harold Groetsema. She had learned her country's style of egg painting when she was young, but got so busy with her career that as an adult she didn't have time for the craft. After coming to Alaska, she stayed home for six months, and with time on her hands decided to take up egg painting again.

''I said let's remember what I used to do,'' she said.

The resulting eggs sport intricately detailed patterns and remarkable blends of color.

The design of Romanian eggs is more geometrical than their Polish or Russian counterparts, Groetsema said. ''There are universal symbols but the approach is different. It's more concentrated.''

Some of the patterns date from the Stone Age, she said. ''It's a very old art, from back before Jesus Christ. Women gave eggs to their husbands for good luck in hunting and people put them in gardens for fertility, then they became Christian art.''

Every Romanian egg includes a cross, she said. The symbol may be unobtrusive but is always included.

''Each egg has a certain significance and symbol,'' she said. ''We have great respect for the eggs.''

Using duck and goose eggs with the insides removed, Groetsema draws designs with beeswax and dips the eggs in jars of dye. The technique may sound elementary but the finished product is complex.

''You have to be very precise,'' Groetsema said.

No two eggs ever turn out exactly the same. It takes two to three hours to paint a duck egg and up to seven hours on a larger goose egg. Each design and color has a meaning, such as white for purity and red for love. A circle represents growth, a triangle the Holy Trinity.

Groetsema's favorite eggs are the traditional earth-tone ones. ''They remind me about my childhood and my Grandma,'' she said.

With hundreds of beautifully decorated eggs on hand, she often gives them away to friends. She has sold them at the Tanana Valley State Fair and Carlson Center shows, and is thrilled when people stop to examine the eggs and ask questions.

Groetsema sells her eggs at the Ornamentry, Knotty Shop and the gift shop in the Marriott SpringHill Suites.

In her culture, the egg is an important symbol of Easter, the biggest holiday of the year in Romania, she said. ''Easter is very important. Eggs are very important. They are the symbol of rebirth and rejuvenation.''

Eggs figure prominently in celebration of Easter, a three-day holiday in Romania. Groetsema recalled bread baked with colored eggs, priests blessing eggs, people giving away eggs for good luck. The youngest member of a family is expected to wash his face in water with a red egg in it, also predicted to bring good luck and red cheeks.

When eating Easter eggs, Romanians save every piece of the shells. The Sunday after Easter the egg shells are tossed on a river or in a graveyard in remembrance of those who have died. At midnight on Easter, people light candles and leave eggs on graves.

In Groetsema's Orthodox religion, which uses the Gregorian calendar, Easter this year will be in May, but Groetsema celebrated Sunday with her husband, too.

''I'm going to celebrate Easter twice,'' she said. ''When you miss your country you discover it meant a lot in your life. It's a lot of fun to remember and to share with our friends.''

She also enjoys teaching her husband, Harold, how to paint eggs. He has created his own red, white and blue patriotic eggs. ''I love them; I'm fascinated by them,'' he said.

In the nine months that Groetsema has been here she has settled into American life, gotten a job at GNC in Shopper's Forum and is awaiting citizenship.

Back home, she used her agriculture degree to work in government and for the Chamber of Commerce.

As for her future and that of her egg art, she quoted a Romanian saying: ''Let's live first and don't worry so much about tomorrow.''

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