Discovering Scherenschnitte with Hans - Eva Varga

September 6, 20121

I have loved the stories of Hans Christian Andersen since I was a little girl.  I remember very clearly listening to my dad read aloud Tumbelina as he tucked me into bed at night. To this day, it is one of my favorite stories. You can imagine my delight when I finally got to “meet him” while we were in Copenhagen last May.

Scherenschnitte with Hans Christian Andersen @EvaVarga.netHans, as I will affectionately refer to him here, was known not only for his skill at storytelling, but also for his ability to cut intricate paper designs.  Remarkably, he would entertain guests by snipping away at paper while he orally told his stories.

At the conclusion of his story, he would reveal the delicate image he had been cutting. Most often, the image he cut told a pictorial story completely different from the one he told in words and his audiences were amazed.

History of Scherenschnitte

Papercutting has a long history dating back to ancient Chinese who used it to form stencils to decorate fine silks. The technique likely found its way to Europe in the early 17th century through trade with Asia.

The term “Chinese shadow” was originally used but was replaced by “silhouette” in France when a banker, Etienne de Silhouette, lent his name to the term. As the minister for finance of Louis XV, he proposed that the king should commission only black-and-white shadow portraits instead of expensive oil pictures.

In France it was originally a bourgeois art but soon became a favorite pasttime for everybody.  Famous artists like Philipp Otto Runge, Adolph von Menzel, and Goethe and later well known artists, such as Matisse and Picasso, created art using this technique.

Scherenschnitte with Kids

Kids are generally familiar with the art of paper cutting – having made paper snowflakes to adorn their windows in winter. However, scherenschnitte is an art that can be enjoyed year-round.

I recently introduced our Barnesklubb kids to the scherenschnitte work of Hans Christian Andersen and was delighted with the number of families that turned out for the activity. I began by reading aloud his short story, The Beetle, which he wrote in 1861.

Upon concluding the story, I revealed to the kids a beetle that I had cutout previously [alas, I would not have been capable of doing it simultaneously].  I also shared with them the book featured below; the kids were all intrigued and spent the next hour trying their own hand at paper cutting.

Author Beth Wagner Brust tells the story of Hans Christian Andersen as an artist, describing how and why he made paper cuttings, which, like his tales, were innovative and original. His work is striking – the cutouts, typically from white or light-colored paper, are set off by dramatic black backgrounds. The accompanying text outlines the major events in Andersen’s life, from his childhood in a slum of Odense to his later career as a celebrated writer.

Scherenschnitte Tutorials & Templates

If you are interested in learning more about this fascinating and ageless art medium, here is a great tutorial:

Cindy Bean, the artist in the video has also graciously provided numerous templates on her website, Scherenschnitte, that you can download for free to help you get started. Here are a few of our favorites:

Please leave a link in the comments if you have given this art a go yourself.  We love to be inspired by others.

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