Horniman a cut above the rest for Valentine's

On Valentine's Day, could there be a more apt destination in south east London than the Horniman Museum?

Their latest exhibition starts on Saturday, all about Wycinanki - no, not a new web 2.0 social network, but the ancient Polish art of paper cutting. If you can't make it for Valentine's, then you have a while, as it's on until September. Could make a nice distraction over half term, and there are some children's workshops planned - see full details in the press release below.

Wycinanki: The Art of Polish Paper Cuts at the Horniman Museum

Wycinanki: The Art of Polish Paper Cuts

Horniman Museum, Balcony Gallery. Free Admission
Saturday 14 February – 27 September 2009

This exhibition, curated by Justyna Pyz, brings together 50 examples of the Polish folk art, Wycinanki, from the Horniman Museum collection, part of which was acquired in1963 from the Ethnographic Museum, Warsaw. The collection was originally assembled by the Polish Minister of Culture and dates from the late 1950s. Several new works were commissioned by the Museum in 2008 as part of its fieldwork programme; these include works by renowned artists such as Apolonia Nowak and Czesława Kaczyńska from Kurpie region and Helena Miazek from Łowicz, whose heart design was commissioned to mark the exhibition’s opening on Valentine’s Day.

Perhaps modelled on traditional Jewish papercuts, Wycinanki originated as an inexpensive means of decorating the homes of Polish peasants and were popular from the mid 19th century. They were generally made by women using sheep-shearing scissors and any readily available paper and replaced each spring when homes were whitewashed. With the advent of communism, Wycinanki were promoted by the new administration as an example of non-bourgeois art and enjoyed enormous popularity along with other forms of folk art. With the collapse of communism Wycinanki were assimilated into the Polish tourist industry as a traditional craft, they are now however enjoying a resurgence of interest from more radical quarters. The design of the Polish pavilion for the Shanghai Expo 2010 is based on a Wycinanki pattern whilst British artist Robert Ryan’s work has brought paper cuts to a new audience.

Some of the designs on display depict everyday rural scenes; these are valuable documents of social history showing a disappearing way of life. One of the paper cuts shows peasant women using traditional flax brakes to make linen, a practice which has now died out. The collection also includes geometric designs which were popular decorations in many homes. Wycinanki were also made for religious festivals and family celebrations; these designs have a set iconography, for example, cockerels for Easter. The paper cuts on display are from two different regions: those from Łowicz are multi-coloured and made from multiple sheets whereas those from Kurpie are made from a single sheet of coloured paper. Justyna Pyz said: “This collection of Wycinanki is remarkably diverse and represents a fantastic opportunity to discover a folk art which has flourished and continues to develop in Poland and which influences artists worldwide.”

Families with children aged 3 and up will have the opportunity to participate in Saturday art and craft workshops on 21 and 28 February from 1.30pm – 2.15pm and 2.45pm – 3.30pm on both days. Free tickets are available half an hour before the session starts from the Information Desk. Children must be accompanied by an adult.