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

Originated in ancient Mexico where the Aztecs used obsidian knives to cut spirit figures out of paper-like bark called amatl from fig and mulberry trees. Today cheap, commercially produced tissue paper, called papel china after the Chinese who first brought it to Mexico in the 16th century, is used 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 which is laid on a stack of as many as 40-50 layers of tissue paper at a time which is put on a thick piece of lead. Then with a mallet and chisels called fierritas  made to different sizes and shapes,  artisans punch out designs of suns, birds, flowers, skeletons, etc. which are later hung on strings or on wooden dowels. Today plastic, mylar, foil and coated papers are also used as the paper banners are eventually destroyed by wind and rain.

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 design with traditional Jewish symbols- like a lion, menorah or a crown. Often the word Mizrach, or East was written on the papercutting and hung on the east wall, towards Jerusalem. Ketubot, Jewish Marriage contracts were also decorated with papercutting. Today there are many Jewish papercut artists who practice the ancient designs and others who are more contemporary.


Chinese Papercutting: Jian Zhi

Dates back many centuries. It was practiced by rich families, often brides prepared them as part of their dowry. It was a folk art as well, mastered by the general population, the only supplies needed being paper, scissors and imagination. Its themes tend to be rich and full of customs such as festivals, marriages and birthday banquets. They are cut out of richly colored papers often red, and are very intricate. The Chinese paper cuts are cut with scissors using origami paper.

Scherenschnitte

Scherenschnitte is the translated as “Scissor Cutting” and is the traditional folk art work that dates from the 1500’s in Switzerland and Germany. Symmetry is an important design element, especially in the Swiss work, achieved by folding the paper as it is cut. Germanic design is more surrealistic while Swiss artists create intricate border cutwork and themes depicting landscapes and local traditions. The Pennsylvania Germans brought the art of “scherenschnitte” to America in the 1700’s and used the cutwork to decorate birth, baptismal and marriage certificates.


Wycinanki

(Vih-chee-nahn-key) were popular in the late 19th century in Poland. Probably 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 and glued onto the walls and wooden ceiling beams. This usually was done by women using sheep shears prior to Easter when the cottage was spring-cleaned and the walls whitewashed. There were many regional types, but most were first folded either once or many times from a single piece of colored paper to make  symmetrical designs of circles, stars and squares with motifs such as  trees, flowers, roosters, birds, etc. Some were overlaid with multi-layers of colored papers. Today, still using traditional techniques and motifs, Polish papercutters mostly cut wycinanki  for tourists and collectors.

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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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