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In the western world, paper-cutting (folding a sheet of paper, then cutting or tearing pieces out of it, to form patterns) is usually confined to the kindergarten. But in China, it's an ancient art form.

"Around the first century A.D., the Chinese invented that most flexible, versatile and adaptable of materials -- paper," says a China Marketing website. "The first papercut can be traced date back to the period known as the Northern and Southern Dynasties (A.D. 386-581). In the T'ang Dynasty (A.D. 618-906) papercuts are the subject of a poem by the poet Ts'ui Tao-yung and from other sources of this period they are described as being used to decorate plants and worn by ladies in their hair in form of butterflies and flowers."

An enterprising American company in Luray, Virginia, which offers attractive papercuts for sale at $3 each, says: "As soon as they invented paper, the Chinese developed its use. For a long time, paper-cutting was reserved to high-society women as an aristocratic hobby. Later, as paper became more 'democratic', paper-cuts make their appearance in lower classes of society.

"First reserved to women and young girls as a domestic art, it became an art when some craftsmen, essentially men, practiced it. It needs great dexterity and real graphic abilities. In its simplest form, the traditional paper-cut uses only the contrast between two colors: the one of chosen paper - it is often red but all colors are possible - and the white of the background."

Displaying some of the designs, the Luray merchant says "These small pictures can't begin to show the intricacy of these pieces of art. The detail is exquisite! Actual size is around three by four inches."

[In a breathtaking combination of interests, the Virginian seller of papercuts also breeds and sells dairy goats. Its website, Khimaira Dairy Goat Farm and Khimaira Kaprine Kreations, says "Thousands of Khimaira dairy goats have found homes in every state of the U.S. and more than twenty countries worldwide."]

Papercuts are not confined to China and the United States. In Israel, Jerusalem artist Archie Granot is said to be "one of the most important papercut artists in the world." He painstakingly fashions ketubahs (ketubot), mizrachs, mezuzahs, blessings for the Jewish life cycle and other works of art.

His website says: "Distinguished by multiple layers of paper, his complex and impressive works, each cut with surgical scalpel, require a lengthy and intuitive process of creation, a process often hidden beneath the multiple layers of paper. Curves and links are interwoven creating incredible depth, texture and movement to which limited and careful use of gold leaf and woven papers only adds.

"Archie Granot's use of Hebrew inscriptions, handcut in astonishingly precise calligraphic letters, is an integral part of his work. Many of the texts relate to Jerusalem and many of his papercuts carry a reminder of the city, a source of his inspiration."

You'll appreciate the skill of some of the world's best papercut artists, and the beauty of their work, if you click on these links:

Copyright 2003

Eric Shackle

Story first posted December 2003

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