The A.B.C.'s of Polish Papercutting


Madalyn Joyce

The A.B.C.'s of Polish Papercutting

For many years Polish peasants have decorated the walls of their homes with colorful papercuts instead of wallpaper or painted decorations. This highly imaginative folk art, Wycinanki, originated with designs made of bark and leather cut with sheep shears. Later, when paper became more readily available, shiny paper in gay colors was used.

Despite difficult conditions of life In Polish villages, stylized birds, flowering trees, sinall animals, rosettes, meshes, and village scenes marched horizontally across the beams and main walls of the villagers' one-story cottages. One-color papercuts were gen erally used vertically and paper cornices accented the windows valence-style.

In rural Poland the cottage home used the one-color designs arranged at random on white-washed walls. Windows and shelves used sunbursts, with fringes of sheer paper in horizontal repeat.

Wycinanki was made in a great variety of sizes. Large Wycinanki appeared on beams accented by round cutouts. The vertical tree-like form was mounted not only on the walls but on cupboards, shelves, furniture, and even on coverlets. The stylized rooster, peacock, bird of paradise, dove, etc. were all arranged symetrically after being cut from folded paper. A bird might be as small as a flower, a leaf as big as a tree.

In the multicolor form of the Lowicz area west of Warsaw, each design was traditionally built up of paper layers with each layer slightly smaller than the one beneath it. Here the color combinations were startling, with symmetrical medallions, and especially large bird medallions, a great prize. Folk tales are all variations of the same plot. Folk art is the endless variation and rearrangement of the same motifs. It was finding the common denominators of Polish papercutting that ultimately brought about my "A.B.C.'s" technique in creating Wycinanki. The A.B.C.'s of Wycinaki are basic motifs and because of the alphabetical arrangement are easy to recognize and remember:

A is for arrowheads
B is for birds
C is for chevrons
D is for dolls and dovetails
E is for egg shapes
F is for flowers
G is for garlands
L is for leaves
M is for meshes
S is for sunbursts, sawteeth, and scallops
and the final T is for tree forms in contour.

The easy way to remember these is to recall the card suites of hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs.

The combination of motifs you prefer will soon become like a signature, for these indicate the controlling ideas and dominant features underlying your special creative bent.

Wycinanki Reproduction Wycinanki
Artists &
Contents Designs
& Kids
Kodry Kurpie Lowicz Wydsmuski Bibliography
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Edited by Sheldon Brown and Arlene Eskilson

updated Monday, November 10, 1997
URL: https://www.sheldonbrown.com/org/joyce/wyc-abc.html
Copyright © 1997, 2008 Sheldon Brown and Arlene Eskilson