For many, wintertime is a season to pursue indoor creative activities. One of the most enduringly popular materials for these arts and crafts is paper. A product of fiber pulp, paper has been the choice writing surface for as long as anyone can remember. But a new museum exhibition at Vesterheim highlights a paper art that doesn’t utilize writing or applying things to paper at all – it focuses on cutting it.
Papirklip (the Danish word for paper cutting) is an art that dates back thousands of years. Requiring very few tools, it has been an accessible art form for people and cultures throughout history. The exhibition Papirklip: A Global and Timeless Art showcases the diversity of paper cutting using examples of both historical and contemporary works by artists from various cultural traditions.
Around 105 A.D., the Chinese found a way to manufacture paper using tree bark and shredded cloth, which created a product that was cheaper and lighter than many of the previous options. Paper was used for many purposes, including wrapping and padding items, as well as creating stencils for textile printing, embroidery, and lacquerware. From China, papermaking and the art of papercutting first spread eastward to Korea and Japan and then moved westward toward India and Turkey – eventually making its way to Europe. From there, it traveled to the Americas with the colonists. However, amatl, a paper-like material made from bark, had already been used for a variety of purposes, including cutting, in Mexico since at least 75 A.D.
In this exhibit, visitors will see examples of amatl art alongside other elaborate paper pieces by artists from Asia, Europe, and the local area. Visitors can evaluate the symbolism of papercut art created in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s along with those featuring American historical commentary by contemporary artist Kara Walker. Despite differences in names and styles in languages and cultures, papercut art remains a truly global and timeless phenomenon.
Papirklip: A Global and Timeless Art was created for touring by the Museum of Danish America in Elkhorn, Iowa, with support from the descendants of Nadjeschda and Niels Overgaard, who inspired generations of the Overgaard family to celebrate their Danish heritage. Bringing this exhibit to Vesterheim is made possible by a generous gift to the Vesterheim Annual Fund from Christine Tuve Burris and Jim Burris.
Online Exhibit Programs
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Join Diya Nagaraj, who will talk about and demonstrate sanjhi, an Indian papercutting tradition that is more than 500 years old. Nagaraj is the Albert Ravenholt Curator of Danish-American Culture at the Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, Iowa, and has curated the Papirklip exhibition.
Danish papirklip artist Torben Jarlstrøm Clausen from Denmark will lead participants through creating their own papirklip figures as he talks of his personal journey with paper art and about the works of another famed paper cutting artist and author – Hans Christian Andersen.