What is wycinanki?
Wycinanki, pronounced “vee-chee-non-kee,” is the folk art of papercutting. Though there are different styles, wycinanki designs feature repetitive motifs and symmetrical and rhythmic compositions. People originally cut colored paper with sheep shears and without the aid of a stencil or pencil drawing.
Papercutting originated in China in the 4th century, making its way to Europe in the 1600s. It eventually became popular in Easter Europe, and appeared in Polish peasant homes in the mid 19th century. This was a time when people could readily access colorful paper.
The most common designs are spruce trees and flowers or feature animals, particularly birds like chickens and roosters. These designs reflect the themes of renewal and life typical of springtime and the Easter season. Other designs, called gwiazdy, are geometric, including circles, stars, snowflakes, and other shapes.
Why did people make wycinanki?
Wycinanki were made by peasants to decorate their homes. The colorful designs adorned whitewashed interior walls or ceiling rafters. People decorated with wycinanki especially at Easter time and sometimes at Christmas as well.
In the 20th century, the art of wycinanki survived occupation, war, urbanization, and more. It became a popular souvenir for tourists and visitors from the cities. There were also competitions sponsored by ethnographic museums. However these wycinanki were framed under glass instead of used to decorate peasant walls and ceiling beams.
Today, you can see wycinanki motifs on many types of souvenirs.
Wycinanki by region
There are two main regions associated with wycinanki, and each has its own style. The Kurpie Region is where single-color wycinanki are prevalent. These are folded and cut all from one piece of paper. The Łowicz District is where multicolored wycinanki are made. Multicolored designs require layers of different color paper.
Wycinanki from the Lubelskie region differ from the main two styles discussed above. Lbelskie wycinanki are always a single color and the pattern is always geometric and does not depict animals or plants.
Learn to make wycinanki
Types of Wycinanki
There are various styles of wycinanki. Gwiozdy (form the word for star) are symmetrical and either feature animals or geometric patterns. Kodry consist of many smaller wycinanki glued to a rectangular piece of white paper. Tasiemki (from the word for ribbon) also feature different colors. However, they consist of two identical bands with small wycinanki glued to them.
Did you know?In 2010, the Polish Pavillion at the Shanghai World Expo was constructed. The design draws heavily on the art of wycinanki.
Did you know?In 1997, British Airways decorated the tail of one of their planes with a wycinanki motif! The artist, Danuta Wojda, from Lowicz created a wycinanka using sheep shears. The design was used for the plane.
Dudek-Woyek, Agata. "A Foreigner's Guide to Polish Folk Art." Culture.pl. February 4, 2015.
Frackiewicz, Barbara. "Polish Papercutting: Can a 19th-century Folk Art Be Re-envisioned for the 21st Century?" Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore, vol. 46, no. 3-4, fall-winter 2020, pp. 36+. Gale Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A672726460/AONE?u=ksstate_ukans&sid=summon&xid=a1d6010e. Accessed 24 May 2023.
Gacek, Anna Zajac. Wycinanki: Polish Folk Paper-Cuts Kurpie-Lowicz Regions. Sarmatia Publications. New Bedford, Massacusetts, 1972.