Polish wycinanki are regarded by many as the most beautiful in the world. They originated with sheepherders cutting designs out of tree bark and leather. Paper wycinanki dates from the early to mid 19th century. Colourful wycinanki were pasted on furniture or roof beams as decoration, hung in windows, and given as gifts.
Wycinanki vary by region, those of a particular region can be easily identified by looking at the design. For example, wycinanki created in the Kurpie region are typically all one colour, while wycinanki from the Łowicz region are multi-coloured. Techniques include cutting, clipping, punching, tearing and carving of paper as well as nalepianki in which multiple layers are glued together.
Subject matter includes peacocks, roosters and other birds, circular or star-shaped medallions (gwiazdy), flowers, and decorative scenes depicting particular yearly events such as Easter, Christmas, and so on. In some towns and villages competitions evolved to create the most beautiful wycinanki. Traditionally done as relaxation in rural areas of Poland, the techniques were passed down from generation to generation, with new themes and ideas developing as the papercuttings became more detailed and intricate.
Paper cutouts are a form of art that had its origins in China many centuries ago. In the 1600s, it spread to Europe where it became particularly popular throughout its Jewish communities. During the 19th century, developments in the dye industry resulted in brightly coloured shiny paper becoming readily available. Polish peasants, who had a tradition of decorating their cottages with hand-painted or stenciled motifs, began using them to create colourful cutouts. Long horizontal designs would be frequently affixed to the exposed ceiling beams. Another favorite location was near the top of a wall, just below the ceiling. Large, complex cut-outs representing scenes from daily life, weddings or holidays were placed on doors. Like much folk art, the wycinanki were ephemeral in nature. They were made to be used, and when the walls were whitewashed anew each Spring, the old wycinanki were thrown out and new ones were made. At best, a favorite might get placed in the barn.
Today one can buy wycinanki in special folk-art stores called Cepelia.
Did you know that:
- Wycinanka by Danuta Wojda of Łowicz was commissioned in 1997 by British Ariways for decoration of the tail of one of its aircraft as part of its "Celestial Art" initiative.