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Paper cutting (Polish wycinanki) is a tradition based on Polish folklore and has its roots in rural areas of Poland where field workers started to develop their own art. In contrast to urban areas, this rural expression was connected with life in the villages and the surrounding countryside. Therefore it is common in wycinanki to find motifs representing trees, flowers or animals,and also patterns characterized by their abstract and geometrical shapes. Let us take a look at a few examples to give you a better insight into the art of wycinanki:

1.Leluja (the tree of life): usually made in one colour. Lelujas are characterized by a vertical axis where a tree is represented and symmetrical shapes of roosters or other motifs are located at both sides.

2.Rózga: as well as “Leluja” is made in one colour and have one vertical axis with symmetrical figures on both sides. Rózgas are better known in the regions of Mazowsze and Łódź, where one can still find people willing to preserve these patterns.

3.The pair of roosters: are known in the Kurpie region. It is noticeable that one of the most prominent features of wycinanki is the rooster. Other shapes of birds which were stencilled out were ones such as pigeons, peacocks, hens, storks etc.

4.Kozaki: as shown this comprises of a chain of repeated shapes e.g. birds. In the wycinanki tradition

one can also find repeated shapes of women or men. Such examples are known as "lalki” or "dolls".

5.Wycinanki made from multiple layers of colourful paper is usually the hallmark of the Łowicz style. Łowicz is a small town in the Łódź region, famous for it is inimitable folklore.

There are many other different kinds of wycinanki besides the examples displayed here. At least three more are worthy of mention: “Klapok”, “Mazur” and “Kodra”. Klapok and Mazur are characterized by two ribbons connected via the upper part (by a circular wycinanki). On the other hand, Kodra are colourful paper cutouts showing scenes of everyday life in the village.  To get an idea of the full and rich diversity of patterns and styles, a visit to ethnological museums is highly recommended.


A little background history:

Although the patterns and styles that we can find in Polish wycinanki (Polish papercutting) are unique, paper cutting did not originate from Poland. Many different cultures practiced it before and most likely it was the Jews who introduced this to Poland.


Jews used to travel from one place to another selling paper among other goods. In addition they had their own kind of paper cutting with strong religious links. For instance it was common for paper cut-outs to be hung on windows and walls during the holydays of Sukkot and Shavout. Unlike Jewish paper cut-outs, Polish wycinanki were made for decorative purposes only. Another difference is that Jewish paper cut-outs were made by men whereas Polish wycinanki were traditionally made by women who were the responsible for decorating the home.

 Historically, wycinanki was developed in rural areas by people coming from the lower social classes. The village societies (19th century)were not supportive towards their own artists and usually those who decided to devote their time and effort to making paper cut-outs were poor, having to work as servants or labourers in farms to make their living. This changed when intellectuals discovered the beauty of folk paper cut- outs and introduced this art to people in the cities. In 1902 the first wycinanki exhibition took place in Cracow and since then artists from many different villages started receiving invitations to the cities in order to promote their art. However it wasn't until a few decades after the golden age of paper cutting in the mid 19th century when wycinanki finally earned the appreciation of a wider audience.Unfortunately, this surge in popularity was shortlived long due to the social and economic changesthat Poland began to face at that time. Peasants began to migrate to the big cities in search of  better standards of  life and folk decorative arts were replaced with industrial mass-produced decorative items.  World War II was also a major cause of the decline of wycinanki. The great collections held in the museums of Warsaw and Lwów were unfortunately destroyed by fire.

The post-war period brought better prospects for wycinanki and in general for all kinds of folk art.  The new government promoted everything related to the working classes, including farmers. A new cooperative named Cepelia was created to promote folk art and produce high quality wycinanki among other handicrafts. Artists could prosper well without the need for additional jobs and paper cutting once again enjoyed a growth boom.

Poland's transition to a capitalist, democratic country in the last few decades has brought new consequences. The traditional method of doing wycinanki was gradually phased out to make way for new styles. Some designers for instance started to use the motifs from wycinanki to create new kinds of art using different materials besides paper (clothes, jewelry, furniture, etc.). Traditional wycinanki is now rarely seen and nowadays it only lives on thanks to a small group of elders who uphold the tradition. Often, their interest in wycinanki was inherited from their ancestors and now they try to pass their passion on to younger generations through different activities in schools, museums, etc.