Polish Papercutting


Madalyn Joyce

Regional Thematic Story Telling: Kodry

Thematic designs are the "dessert" of Wycinanki. The subject can be of great warmth and nostalgia, such as: taking in the hay, picking apples, christening a baby, churning butter, dancing the polka at a rural wedding, making baskets, selling toys at a fair, tending farm animals, delivering milk in a goat cart, gathering mushrooms, flower vendors, street musicians and their audience, children at play, or a family outing. Rural family and farm life suggest countless possibilities.

Horizontal thematic designs can have a very personal flavor in home decoration. Many traditional Polish artists used pastoral scenes over windows and doorways and marching along beams in tandem. Consider using paper stories for valances or cornices. Tales of a beloved grandparent of life in the country or small town activities may give inspiration. Carding wool, hooking rugs, preparing Christmas confections, making tree ornaments -- all these labors of love that bring a shine to the eye are suitable material. Whether or not you have Polish background, press those elders in your family for what they can remember of traditional celebrations. Ask for old pictures you can use to incorporate images of family members in your compositions. It is just as easy to use a familiar church in a design, a special color horse, the well -remembered tablecloth that your aunt made, or a facsimile of the necktie your father wore as part of his wedding finery. Ask what music was played at family occasions, if a picture exists of the fat accordionist, if anyone remembers the outfit auntie wore when she came to America. These are the warm, pulsating items you must lovingly collect "while there is still time," so take the time to ask and make notes.

Each item need only be suggested to tell the-story in there narrative papercuts. For instance, two to five people and animals, a tree, two rocks, and three or four clumps of grass and flowers can be arranged and rearranged in many compositions.

The samples pictured (figs.****) will give you courage, so take the phone off the hook, put the Do Not Disturb sign on your door, get out the king-size wastebasket, and get started. Cutting can be a long process, so don't plan on any deadlines. I suggest you get your frame first, planning a colored mat and background material to give the final product finish.

The illustrations that follow (figs. ****) are graphic illustrations of how the same items can be used to tell different stories. I cut two at a time of each figure except the trees and arrange and rearrange them, sometimes Xeroxing the preliminary compositions. Interestingly, commercial advertisements and magazine layouts are altered and modified in this same manner: moving items around on overlays of acetate. It is easy to see from the illustrations how three separate compositions evolved. In the finished design* one girl may be dressed in the Kurpie manner, the other in the Lowicz manner* each with color overlaid for depth and luminosity. Grant Wood used this cutout and arrangement technique in planning many of his compositions.

Wycinanki Reproduction Wycinanki
Artists &
Contents Designs
& Kids
Kodry Kurpie Lowicz Wydsmuski Bibliography
spoke divider

Edited by Sheldon Brown and Arlene Eskilson

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