Easter Tradition

A Rochester artist embraces her Russian roots.

When Marina Forbes left Russia for the United States 17 years ago, she brought with her a deep appreciation and knowledge of the cultural history and tradition of her native country. Ever since, she has worked to share it with as many people as possible. “Arts and culture are marvelous tools to bring people together and have a better understanding of one

another,” she says.

Forbes, who lives in Rochester, carries out her mission in a number of ways, including leading tours of Russia under the auspices of the prestigious Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and giving numerous presentations on Russian art, life, history and culture each year in New England. But her own internationally recognized artwork — primarily traditional Russian icons and Russian matryoshkas (nesting dolls) — perhaps conveys her message best, especially as she teaches others how to do it.

During the Easter season, Forbes focuses on painted Russian Orthodox Easter eggs, which are traditionally given as gifts. She says the Russian Orthodox Church believes the first Easter egg was presented by Mary Magdalene to Roman Emperor Tiberius when she visited to tell him of Christ’s ascension. Tiberius reportedly was skeptical until the egg she brought started turning from white to red. “The red egg is a symbol of new life and the resurrection,” Forbes says.

Ever since, eggs used for Easter are boiled with onion peels to make the eggs turn a rich, brownish-red color. Forbes paints religious images onto birch wood eggs that have been primed with animal skin glue and gessoed (a mixture of marble dust and animal skin glue) to create a smooth, white surface. It’s then painted with natural pigments, egg tempera and 23k gold applied with garlic juice. Finally, it’s varnished. “I love to use natural materials,” Forbes says.

Forbes also does what she calls “whimsical art” — flowers, village scenes and the like (see photo below), following the same process, but using imitation gold. You can see her artwork and that of other Russian artists April 3 at the New England Language Center Easter Bazaar in Rochester, where she is the director of international programs.

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