Thursday, January 4, 2007

Jew, Paper, Scissors

For the next few posts, I want to feature a very old art form. Papercutting has been performed by Jewish artists for centuries and the work is coveted by many. As I admire the intricacies of the design I can only imagine the painsaking efforts of the artist.

From My Jewish Learning
Among a highly literate people like the Jews, paper was always on hand, even among the poor, and especially after the introduction of cheap wood-pulp paper in the mid-19th century. The more we learn about Jewish papercuts in one form or another, the more reason we have to believe that they were once exceedingly common, at least in Ashkenazic-Jewish homes. They served daily religious and other ritual needs, such as indicating the direction of prayer (mizrach, shivitti, menorah), decorating the home for holidays (omer calendars, shavuosl/roisele, ushpizin, etc.), warding off the evil eve (shir hamalos/kimpethrivl, menorah), remembering family deaths (yahrzeit) and the like.
These papercuts feature most of the traditional symbols and inscriptions found in Jewish ceremonial objects and amulets--many of them kabbalistic [mysictal]--characteristic of the various Diaspora communities. The real or fantastic animals and birds, vegetation, utensils, urns, columns, the menorah, tablets of the Law, stars of David, the signs of the 12 tribes and of the zodiac, yadayim/hamsas (an upside down hand), eternal lights / lamps-in-niches, and the like, which appear and reappear in the compositions, had almost all meanings that were wide; if not universally understood in the community.
They were supplemented with calligraphic inscriptions in Hebrew (and sometimes in other languages), mainly passages from the Bible, the interpretive and homiletic texts, the prayerbook, cryptograms, acronyms, wise sayings, and magic formulas and incantations. Personal dedicatory and memorial inscriptions commemorating special family events were sometimes included as well. And occasionally--to the delight of those of us who crave to know more about them--the name of the maker of the papercutter, the date and place, and the name of the owner are indicated.

The work of Marci Wiesel is simply wonderful... the cuttings are exact and her use of color only provides depth to her work. Marci was born in the USA but has since made aliyah and is working and creating in Israel. Unlike the earlier papercut artists Marci utilizes both hand cutting and laser cutting in her work. The work featured above is called Upon Three Things Does the World Stand . Below is The Shining Aleph Bet: The Light of Torah

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