A fascinating art and craft form that deserves greater attention is papercutting, or in the German often used by its practitioners, Scherenschnitte. Almost contemporaneous with the invention of paper itself in the first century, the practice began in China.
Because of its low cost, it became a popular folk art in other countries. In later centuries, it was often used in Europe for religious purposes. Cloistered nuns cut designs for their convents or for gifts to other convents. Common people who couldn't afford devotional pictures began to make their own from paper. They often created these to decorate their homes for specific religious holidays.
Much of this information comes from the Guild of American Papercutters, many of whose contemporary members use religious themes in their works. For example, the guild's 10th anniversary exhibit in 1998 included (along with secular topics) works with titles such as Noah's Ark, God's Promise, Jonah and Once Was Called Forth the Nation Israel. Some are white on black, some black on white, and some in color.
The guild sponsors exhibits around the country. You can find information at www.papercutters.org, where works are also displayed. An exhibit is appearing through the end of May at Susquehanna University, an ELCA school in Selinsgrove, Pa.
Guild member Rick Marzullo is having his 11th solo exhibit at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Wash., through May 23. Portraits of the four evangelists and a portrayal of the Martin Luther cross are among the religious subjects. A member of Bethania Evangelical Lutheran Church, Solvang, Calif., Marzullo works in the Scandinavian papercutting tradition. Other works in the show feature Scandinavian folktales, folk costumes and scenes of folk life.
For those of us who, as children, cut snowflakes from folded white paper, the depth and creativity of the papercutting art are nothing short of amazing.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers