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Kodra Pictorial

Wycinanki: Polish Papercutting

Have you ever cut paper snowflakes? Many people have discovered the fun of making these unique creations, but they usually don’t use big, clunky pair of sheep sheers to do it. Historically, the people of Poland have cut Wycinanki (vee-chee-NAN-kee), their traditional papercutting art, using sheep shears because they were often the only cutting implements available in the rural areas.

Papercutting is practiced around the world, and Polish Wycinanki is one of the most colorful forms of this art. Originating in the mid-1800s, it involves the symmetrical cutting and layering of colorful pieces of paper. Wycinanki has always been a purely decorative art, with cutouts used as wall or window decorations, notecards, stencils, bookmarks, lampshades, placemats, holiday decorations, frames for poems or important documents, and three-dimensional mobiles. The element of the unexpected in its creation adds a dimension of joy and fun. Traditionally, Wycinanki designs are cut freehand, without sketching a design first, from a single sheet of paper.

Magdalena Nowacka-Jannotta, who cut the example shown here, is a talented Wycinanki artist who now lives in Arizona. Her designs are cut freehand, using hand-forged sheep shears from Poland.

Significance of Shapes and Colors in Polish Papercutting

birds—free spirit, freedom
rooster—guardian, new beginnings
peacock—beauty, showoff
tree—life rooted, growing, change
circle—perfection with no beginning and no end

red—love, celebration, triumph
black—commemoration, remembrance
green—hope, growth
yellow—jealousy, envy
purple—imperial, regal

Source: Wycinancki: The Art of Polish Papercutting by Magdalena Nowacka-Jannotta (2003: CRIZMAC Art and Cultural Education Materials, Inc.)

Discussion Questions:
Adapted from questionArte posters by Marilyn Stewart PhD, published by CRIZMAC

Do Artworks always have the meaning the artist intended them to have?

Is it possible for an artist to intend to express one idea in an artwork and actually succeed in expressing something different?

In order to interpret the meaning of a work of art, should the artist always be consulted? Why or why not?

Do the meanings of artworks change over time or from one place to another? If so, how does this happen?

From the Teacher’s Guide of questionArte
“Talking about particular works of art, as well as about art in general, can be the most satisfying activity associated with learning about art and art-makers. Students gain new insights as they examine and investigate works of art and offer possible interpretations about meaning. Students learn from each other in the process of discussing important questions about art. They learn about their own art-making as they consider what they have accomplished through their efforts.

Lesson Plan: Cut a Wstega (FSTENG-gah) Design