A single piece of paper can bring all sorts of different things to our lives: the excitement of a love letter or the heartbreak of a Dear John, the frustration of a speeding ticket or the accolades of a diploma, the joy of a birth certificate or the sorrow of a last will and testament. But for one Franklin woman, a single piece of paper brought her the beginning of four decades of artistry and a craft that, she said, she never tires of.
Marcia Roland is a scherenschnitte artist, a specialist in the folk art of paper cutting. Her pieces range in design from simple two-dimensional scenes to intricate, many-tiered 3D works, mostly cut from plain white paper.
Roland said she picked up the hobby nearly 40 years ago when she saw a Scandinavian woman paper cutting at a craft fair at the Asheville Civic Center. She bought one of the artist’s pieces – a boy with a goose and tree – and took it home, where she started experimenting with creating her own replicas. After many attempts, she was finally able to make a scaled version of the 18-inch model to fit into a legal envelope and she promptly started cutting them to use as Christmas cards that year.
“I made close to 50 of those for our Christmas cards and sent them to people and it was at that time that I kind of got hooked,” said Roland. “Then I started to do some research and I discovered the information on the history of it, and then I started to look for patterns.”
Most of what she found was two-dimensional; simple flat patterns and silhouettes. But Roland really loved the 3D work, so she took the flat patterns, modified them, cut them twice then stitched the pieces together with a sewing machine, which is much the same process she still uses today. Her works are one part pattern, one part artistry and one part engineering, as it takes some tinkering and tweaking to finally create templates that are balanced enough to support themselves without being top-heavy or stand freely withouth collapsing. But Roland said that the tweaking is part of the craft’s draw, as is the beauty and delicacy of the art it produces.
Scherennschnitte isn’t a new process. Though there are few remaining examples due to the short life paper, by its nature, enjoys, there is evidence of intricate paper cuttings dating as far back as ninth century China. The practice really saw its vogue, however, in the 17th and 18th centuries, when peasant children and housewives in Germany began cutting intricate folk scenes and designs into carefully saved scraps of excess paper. They were used in children’s games and as inexpensive decorations to adorn the walls and mantles of homes. The word itself – scherenschnitte – is the German term for a silhouette, and can be literally translated as ‘scissors cutting.’
The tradition lived on and was imported to the United States in the late-18th and early-19th centuries, where it found its way into things like lace paper doilies, Valentine’s cards, bookmarks, book plates and Christmas ornaments.
Today, artists around the world employ the process in fine as well as folk art, keeping the tradition alive and adapting it to modern artistry.
Marcia Roland doesn’t see herself as a professional artist, but she has long continued her paper cuts because she loves the process and is always finding inspiration for new pieces. Most of her art features folk scenes and outdoor depictions or is holiday-themed, like a series of nativity scenes or a three-dimensional menorah. But Roland said she just cuts whatever inspires her, whether it be a butterfly on a newspaper advertisement or a catalog photo of a wooden nativity, both of which she’s turned into scherenschnitte designs. Sometimes, she said, she takes cues from her own life, too, about which subjects to cut next.
“I have two grown sons, so at one time that’s what got me to try something with hunters, so I’ve done a few of those,” said Roland. “My husband’s job has taken us all over the country, and that also inspires some of the designs.”
A selection of Roland’s work is now on display at the Macon County Library, where she’s shown it several times since moving back to the area eight years ago. And while for decades, she only made cuttings to give away to friends or keep privately, she’s now taking the age-old art of scherenschnitte to the world, demonstrating at the county fair and loaning her work for display. She has recently considered, she said, holding a class to pass the craft on to others.
And even now, 40 years later, Roland said she intends to continue cutting paper, always seeking a new challenge in the ancient craft that has never gotten old.
Marcia Roland’s work can be seen through the end of January at the Macon County Public Library in Franklin.