Pennsylvania Dutch culture is rich in distinctive folk art. Recently I tried out one of these crafts for the first time: Scherenschnitte, or papercutting. This artform started in Germany and came over with the Deitsch people who settled in America. Once here, it took on uniquely Deitsch themes, such as Distlefinks, tulips, hearts, and other motifs common in other Deitsch art like Fraktur and Hex signs.
Scherenschnitte can be cut two ways, either as silhouettes, or with the design represented in the negative spaces. Traditional papercuts were sometimes done on black paper, and other times done on paper that was richly painted with watercolors. Sometimes these pieces were combined with Fraktur to commemorate births, marriages, and other special occasions, or worked into special Valentines and love notes for a lucky special someone. Scherenschnitte is traditionally crated with a small pair of very sharp scissors, and often involves folding the paper to create a symmetrical design in the finished piece. Modern Scherenschnitte can also employ blades, like Xacto knives, for intricate cuts, and can use the wide variety of specialty papers available for scrapbooking and other crafts.
Paper is delicate and doesn’t last as long as other materials, so examples of Scherenschnitte from early Deitsch settlement are highly prized. Examples can be found in special archives and museums as well as at auction houses and antique stores.
For my own adventures with Scherenschnitte, I’ve been using a cutting mat, such as you would get for quilting, and an Xacto knife. I actually find it easier to cut with scissors, but I don’t have a pair small enough yet for the kind of detail I want to get. (Historically, though, sometimes even enormous sheep shears were used to cut incredibly intricate designs!) My first piece was a lotus which I dedicated as a memorial for my guinea pig, Gadget, who died the day after I created it.
The second piece I created is an iris based on a photograph I took. Here is the photograph that inspired it:
and here is the finished piece:
This one I cut several times in different versions until I was satisfied with the final piece. I especially wanted clarity, so that the viewer would immediately understand what the piece was depicting.
I really enjoy Scherenschnitte and I look forward to improving my skills and trying out some more traditional Deitsch designs. It really appeals to my love of working with negative space, as I do when I work in lace.