As I am no historian (really I am not very good with history), and there is such a vast amount of information that spans back centuries, I can only provide you with my interpretation and opinion of Papercutting History. I have provided some links at the end if you are interested in looking in to this further. I have tried to keep this as brief as I can to just give you a glimpse into the information that is available.
Everywhere I have looked, people seem to be in agreement about China being the place of origin of papercutting, however the timeline varies. The most common belief is that it dates back to the 6th century; yet there are a few that believe they can trace papercut art as far back as the 4th century. It is believed that papercutting started from the creation of stencils that were used for embroidery patterns and painting decoration on to fine silks. Papercutting is a massive part of Chinese heritage and traditional culture.
As with many aspects of Chinese culture, there is a great deal of symbolism in every papercut, down to the traditional red colouring which represents prosperity, luck, joy and good fortune. Each papercut appears to have a specific meaning, purpose and is created with sincere well wishes. When I was looking in to the Chinese history of papercutting, I discovered a wonderful page of information explaining some of the symbols that are used in specific pieces, such as gifts for weddings and birthdays (links are listed at the bottom of the page). There is also great significance in the use of Chinese Zodiac symbols.
The symbol in the centre of both of these designs is “shuāngxǐ” Most commonly used in such artistic designs and less likely to be seen in every day language. This symbol translates as “double happiness”, basically wishing the newly weds happiness, luck and joy together as a couple / unity. I love that the design on the left here has 2 hearts representing the bottom shapes of the “xi”.
Papercutting was (in places still is) known as “folk art”, it wasn’t really recognised as its own art form until it began sweeping the nations and became increasingly popular around the Western world. Many cultures have some form of papercutting in their history. Predominantly this is because it was an inexpensive way of creating something pretty, creative and with meaning and it was easy to incorporate in to celebrations and events.
Jewish culture is another of the papercutting history tales that has mixed views as to when it began to appear. Sadly what is agreed, is that like much of the Jewish art, most of their Papercutting heritage was destroyed during times of war. However, it has made its way back in to the lives of the Jewish people and again, like the Chinese culture, is often used in times of celebration using symbolism and meaning; especially around weddings and religious ceremonies. Unlike the solid red colour of more traditional Chinese papercuts, Jewish pieces are more varied and colourful. They are also very symmetrical in design. I actually found some great information, again regarding the symbology, used within Jewish papercut designs. Many of which translate through history and are heavily connected to religion. I would recognise lots of the Jewish born designs as being more “folksy” in nature (depending on where about in the world the design originates off course).
There are many folk art designs and creations through much of Asia and Europe (particularly Eastern Europe). With each area developing their own styles and adding their own culture, beliefs, symbology and themes in to their creations.
It’s good to see that these are still being passed on down through generations. Predominantly Folk style papercuts are symmetrical, very colourful and cheerful in design.
In Poland papercutting is known as “wycinanki” and has two distinctive forms, “Kurpie” and “Lowicz”. The women of Kurpie traditionally
created symmetrical geometric designs from a single sheet of paper folded in half with the design on one half, cut then opened out (mirroring the image). Where the people of Lowicz created designs using multiple very colourful papercuts and layering them.
The term “Scherenschnitte” (translates to scissor cuts in German) originated in Germany and Switzerland (I can’t quite get to the bottom of where first). It is believed that the silhouette style of papercutting was named after a French Banker Etienne de Silhouette. So as you can see papercutting is threaded throughout history in one form or another.
Let’s not forget Japan. Most of you will recognise the Japanese art form of Origami (folding paper) but the Japanese are also very skilled in the art of Kirie (paper cutout).Typically this Japanese style of papercutting is where you would recognise the symmetrical snowflakes or the paper chain dolls many of us made at Christmas as children. It would therefore only make sense for them to progress this further in to a style that is known as Kirigami.
Kirigami can take things to a whole new level though. I have seen some outstanding pieces of work (some of which I will be introducing you to when I share some of my favourites later).
Like any art form it is all about interpretation, creativity, imagination and having NO LIMITS. From the simple snowflake to massive installations; a simple silhouette to a layered 3D scene; chunky basic designs to the most intricate fragile pieces you can image. The use of scalpels or scissors (or even machinery); hand-drawn, free-hand or created digitally. Papercutting has grown and developed from a once very insignificant (in terms of the art world) craft, to now being widely appreciated and sought after.
I hope this has given you enough of an insight to appreciate the significance of papercutting, that it truly deserves to be considered an art form and that it holds such valuable history in many cultures around the world. I also hope that you will come back and see some of my favourite artists and their stunning work.
Sources: Most of the information here I discovered throughout the learning I carried out when I first started discovering papercutting (unfortunately I cannot remember every book and page I read). To make sure I had some links and images I have searched some generic terms and attached all sources and links below.
McCormick, C.T. and White, K.K. (eds.) (2011) Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art, Volume 1 [Online] Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ea65pD9YyzkC&pg=PA285&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false [accessed 11th September 2015]
Bieler, L. (2008) History of Papercutting [Online] Available at: http://www.bieler-beerli.com/Lucrezias_Art_Studio/Lucrezia_Bieler_files/bieler-history-papercutting.pdf [accessed 11th September 2015]
Cameron, N. (1976) as cited in Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (2006) The History of the Chinese Papercut [Online] Available at: http://www.sacu.org/papercuts.html [accessed 10th September 2015]
China Highlights (2015) Chinese Paper Cuts [Online] Available at: http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/culture/paper-cut.htm [accessed 10th September 2015]
(2) Cultural China (2012) Art of Chinese Paper Cutting [Online] Available at: http://www.cultural-china.com/chinaWH/Traditions/features/Paper-cut/ [accessed 10th September 2015]
(4) Granot, A. and Thurm, M. (2012) MOCRA Voices [Online] Available at: http://www.slu.edu/mocra/mocra-voices/archie-granot-and-max-thurm?site=mobile [accessed 10th September 2015]
Herron School of Art and Design (2015) The Art of Paper Cutting [Online] Available at: http://www.herron.iupui.edu/blog/03102012/art-paper-cutting [accessed 11th September]
(5) Keepers of Traditions (2014) The Art of Polish Paper Cut Design [Online] Available at: http://blog.massfolkarts.org/index.php/2014/07/the-art-of-polish-paper-cut-design/ [accessed 10th September 2015]
Merle Press Team (2012) Chinese Wedding Paper Cut: Double Happiness Patterns [Online] Available at: http://www.merleonline.com/blog/chinese-marriage [accessed 10th September 2015]
(1) Merle Press Team (2012) Know More About Traditional Chinese Marriage [Online] Available at:http://www.merleonline.com/blog/tag/traditional-chinese-marriage [accessed 10th September 2015]
(7) Poole, C. (2015) How to make 6-sided Kirigami Snowflakes [Online] Available at: http://mathcraft.wonderhowto.com/how-to/make-6-sided-kirigami-snowflakes-0131796/ [accessed 10th September 2015]
Travel China Guide (2015) Chinese Paper-Cut [Online] Available at: http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/arts/paper_cut.htm [accessed 10th September 2015]
(3) Wikipedia (2015) Jewish Paper Cutting [Online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_paper_cutting [accessed 11th September 2015]
Wikipedia (2015) Kirigami [Online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirigami [accessed 11th September 2015]
Wikipedia (2015) Papercutting [Online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papercutting [accessed 11th September 2015]
(6) Wikipedia (2015) Scherenschnitte [Online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scherenschnitte [accessed 11th September 2015]
Zhang, A. (2012) A Special Time for Double Happiness [Online] Available at: http://www.theworldofchinese.com/2012/10/a-special-time-for-double-happiness/ [accessed 10th September 2015]