Folk Art

Antique American Scherenschnitte or Scissor-Cutting - Extremely Intricate
  • This is one of two incredibly intricate American School Scherenschnitte from the same hand. I don’t know who the artist of these two fantastic pieces is but the way in which the paper on both was folded into quarters and cut so that, except for the center of this piece, each quadrant is exactly the same as the three others is something that 19th century American artists practiced more than scissor-cutting artists of other countries. The style, motifs and manner in which cut all indicate the likely origin is Pennsylvania.

    I refer to this scissor-cutting as “The Poulson cutting” because the name “John Poulson” has been cut into the center medallion. I refer to the other paper-cutting by the same artist as “The Geometric Cutting” because the edge has a very intricate geometric border. The designs of The Poulson Cutting cutting are more organic. The petaled flower that serves as the corner motif here also serves as the center medallion motif in The Geometric Cutting. The leaves are the same in both. The intricacy of the cutting is so precise and similar in both pieces that I must attribute them to the same artist. I strongly suspect that “John Poulson” is the name of the lucky person for whom this piece was cut so I am discounting that as the artist’s name. My genealogical research turned up so many men by the name of John Poulson in Pennsylvania and Ohio during the mid-19th century that I cannot pin down the correct person.

    So, this Scherenschnitte was cut for exact duplicate quadrants but the center was left to be cut separately. The four birds may have been cut at the same time or the paper may have been folded in half for cutting in pairs. Some of the center was cut with the paper folded in half but the name and the immediately surrounding foliage design was cut with the paper fully opened. In addition to flowers, birds and foliage, this piece includes pinwheels. Where the paper has more than a tiny bit of space, it has been textured with pinpricks.

    I am unable to test the black paper on which the cutting has been laid because I can’t get behind it. The black paper has been laid onto brown paper that tests acid-free. There are some restorations around the very edge of the cutting where it appears that losses were replaced with early paper, partially cut and partially painted with black to mimic the design. The restorations blend very well except that the restoration paper is a shade darker than the original (see photos). The restoration paint really looks like cutting—I had to see it under a loupe and out of the frame to tell that it was not cut. There are a few tiny paper losses along the edges and some pieces that have been turned down. All not noticeable without close inspection. The corners of the cutting were held in place by some type of clear mylar or plastic (like the corners used in good photo albums). One corner came off when I had the frame opened up but the others are stuck and I won’t try to remove them. They are really hard to see unless the light hits the piece in just the right way. Like a lot of early paper artwork, the black paper is not evenly cut. The brown paper at the very back shows a bit at some of the framed edges. Framed in a period wood frame that measures 11 ¾” x 15 ¼”. Sight size 13 ¾” x 9 ¾”.

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    Please see Scherenschnitte, The Art of Papercutting for more information on this wonderful form of folk art.

    Check out the other piece by the same artist at The Geometric Cutting.