Guild of American Papercutters

Turning cut paper into art....

About Papercutting

There are many styles of papercutting throughout the world, each with its own unique look.  Below are examples of five of the most traditional styles.

Papel Picado- Mexican Paper Cutting

An early form of papercutting originated in ancient Mexico, where the Aztecs collected amatl, a paper-like bark from fig and mulberry trees.  They used obsidian knives to cut spirit figures out of  the amatl. Papel picado ("perforated paper") as we know it today began in the Spanish colony of Puebla in the 16th century, where a Chinese silk paper (papel de China) was was used for cut decorations and lanterns.  Today, Mexican artists use inexpensive tissue paper to create Papel Picado for both religious and secular purposes. Paper designs decorate altars and tables and stretch across windows, ceilings, plazas and narrow streets as colorful banners to announce weddings, funerals, baptisms, Mexican Independence Day, Christmas, the Day of the Dead, etc. These banners begin with a single pattern laid on a stack of up to 50 layers of tissue paper on a thick piece of lead. Then, with a mallet and various chisels called fierritas,  artisans punch out designs of suns, birds, flowers, skeletons, etc. The cut sheets are then hung on strings or on wooden dowels. Today plastic, mylar, foil and coated papers are also used for increased durability.

Judaic Papercutting

Jewish papercutting dates back to the 14th century in Europe.  Papercutting has been used among the Jewish people to enhance the artwork hung in their homes. Traditional papercuttings had symmetrical designs with traditional Jewish symbols such as lions, menorahs and crowns. Often the word Mizrach, or East, was written on the papercutting and hung on the east wall, towards Jerusalem. Ketubot, Jewish Marriage contracts, have also been decorated with papercutting. Today there are many Jewish papercut artists who practice the ancient designs, while others adapt the tradition into contemporary forms.


Chinese Papercutting: Jian Zhi

It is possible that the Chinese have been creating cut paper since paper was invented there in the 2nd century CE.  The art was practiced by wealthy families who could afford the expensive paper; often brides prepared them as part of their dowry. As paper became more affordable, Jian Zhi grew into a folk art, mastered by the general population. Created for festivals, marriages and birthday banquets, the imagery is rich with symbols. Today’s Chinese paper cuts are typically made with scissors using red origami paper.

Scherenschnitte

Scherenschnitte (translated as “Scissor Cutting”) is a traditional folk art dating from the 1500s in Switzerland and Germany. Symmetry, an important design element in the Swiss work, is achieved by cutting the paper while folded. Germanic design tends to be more surreal, while Swiss cuttings are characterized by intricate borders and themes depicting landscapes and local traditions. The Pennsylvania Germans brought the art of scherenschnitte to America in the 1700s and used the cut work to decorate birth, baptismal, and marriage certificates.


Wycinanki

(Vih-chee-nahn-key) were most popular in the late 19th century in Poland. It is likely that the first papercuttings were cut from white paper and used as curtains and to decorate mirrors and holy pictures in peasant cottages. Later, they were cut from colored paper using sheep shears and glued onto walls and wooden ceiling beams. The cuttings were traditionally created by women prior to Easter, when the cottage was spring-cleaned and the walls whitewashed. There were many regional types, but most began by folding a colored paper at least once to make  symmetrical designs.  Motifs include circles, stars, squares, trees, flowers, roosters, and other birds. Some were overlaid with colored papers. Today, tourists and collectors continue to value the traditional techniques and motifs used by Wycinanki artists in Poland and abroad.

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The Guild is a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The operation of the Guild of American Papercutters is accomplished entirely by volunteers, with no member or officer receiving any payment for their work.

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