The A.B.C.s of Polish Papercutting


Madalyn Joyce

Backround of Wycinanki

In Poland, papercutting began with sheepherders cutting designs out of bark and leather, in bad weather. As paper became more widely available, this became their medium. The word for this folk art is WYCINANKI (Vee-chin-non-key).

Early Wycinanki were inspired by tapestries and painted decorations seen in homes of affluence. Many of these designs were translated into papercuts used in peasant cottages. Originally used both inside and outside the house, many were made by members of the family.

Wycinanki has many derivations with which this book will acquaint you, so that you can recognize the many ways in which Polish papercuts have been used.

The most basic form of this art is the single color Kurpie cut (see fig.**** ). These designs were often arranged randomly on walls instead of wallpaper. Whitewashed walls gave a fine background for these stylized creations, in which a bird may be as large as a flower, the monstrance is a familiar motif, and cocks, trees, flowers, and small animals, as well as meshes and garlands, appear in rhythmical repeat.

Originally Easter-oriented, later Christmas inspired new variations. Wycinanki was used not only as wall decoration, but also on furniture, cupboards, cradles, shelves, and even coverlets. Often they were replaced several times a year, These single color papercuts developed in the area north of Poland's capital, Warsaw.

Eventually the more elegant multicolor Lowicz Wycinanki (see fig.*****) developed in the more prosperous region west of the capital. These Wycinanki involve elaborately cut and arranged overlays of vari-colored paper, and often express themes or tell stories of village activities. They were displayed tandem style over windows, doorways, and on the main walls of one story rural houses. Birds of rainbow hue marched across beams, and flowers of stylized perfection formed circular accents. The colors used are blended visually, and give richness and dimension to the art form. The Wycinanki which told stories are called Kodry (as in fig.****)

The circular medallion called Gwiazdy (fig.****) includes the doily type designs as well as the bird and flower papercuts that have a symmetrical center axis. These were used between the Kodry Wycinanki and the handsome strutting birds to articulate with flowers on each side. The bird and flower compositions are also called Kodry, when used as horizontal compositions.

Another variation of Polish papercutting is the paper valance, made of repeated meshes, rosettes, garlands, and fringes cut of sheer paper. These creations were used over window frames, and at times were even made of crepe paper.

The Riband (fig.****) is another Wycinanki decoration and suggests the ribbons sometimes given as awards (indeed, many were used for this purpose). Ribands have a center medallion, sometimes with serrated edges, from which two streamers dangle at a slight angle. The variety of overlays of color make this an all time favorite as a wall decoration. It is one of the earliest forms found in Poland.

Yet another Wycinanki-inspired decoration is the Pajak. This ornament resembles an old-fashioned dining room chandelier, but is in fact a purely decorative accessory made of straw, cut paper, and decorated eggs (fig.****). Pajak are a form of mobile, made from two hoops of different sizes hung one inside the other. The mobile strands are strung with short lengths of straw, with circles of paper blossoms in between. Festoons of colored paper give a festive touch to the home.

Poland's Christmas treasure is the miniature egg pitcher called Wydmuszki. This ornament also uses Wycinanki, in minute form (see fig.****) These items are about the width of a dressmaker's cloth measuring tape, with slender necks decorated with bands of color. Stripes radiate like aster petals from the top of the egg, and a graceful handle of paper and a well-balanced base complete these fragile creations. Some Wydmuszki makers have used favorite designs previously used in larger form. Many Wycinanki designs have been used for generations, and are adapted from the motifs on the festive emroidered vests worn on special occasions. Wycinanki artists have left their personal signatures on work through unique color schemes, motifs, and other variations. One of the most famous Polish artists in this medium used butterflies in maany of his works. Others have used color schemes found in their regional costumes as a special symbol.

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/wycinanki.html
Copyright © 1997, 2008 Sheldon Brown and Arlene Eskilson