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The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art opens exhibition of papercuts from the permanent collection
Josefine Allmayer (Austrian, 1904-1977), Resting in the Shade, 1945-1962, Psaligraphy, Gift of Mrs. Fred E. Crutchley.

EUGENE, ORE.- “The Delicate World of Josefine Allmayer: Papercuts from the Permanent Collection” will be on view in the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art’s MacKinnon Gallery from March 4 to May 25, 2014. Displayed together on the at the JSMA for the first time, the exhibition features twenty-nine works of art expertly cut from tissue-thin papers with scissors.

The works feature representations of life along the Danube River. In these delicate vignettes, weary travelers trudge through snowy landscapes, goatherds serenade their flocks, and diminutive gnomes smoke pipes in the company of snails. Also included is a portrait series of such composers as Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Strauss.

Curated by June Black, assistant curator for the arts of the Americas and Europe, and Faith Kreskey, recent University of Oregon MA art history graduate, the exhibition is organized as a historical counterpart to the contemporary silhouettes featured in “Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power.”

On Wednesday, May 21, at 5:30 p.m., Sherwin Simmons, Professor Emeritus, Department of the History of Art and Architecture leads a lecture, “Silhouettes: Physiognomic Science, Domestic Craft, and Avant-Garde Critique.” The talk, which is free and open to the public, will place Allmayer's works within a tradition of silhouette cutting that begins within the disciplines of science and art in the eighteenth century and then becomes a domestic craft taken up by the artistic avant-garde at different moments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Josefine Allmayer was born in Gugging, a small town near Vienna, Austria, in 1904. Allmayer’s father taught her the art of psaligraphy, or papercut silhouettes, when she was a child and she continued creating papercuts throughout her life. She mastered the art form, combining traditional Austrian imagery and ornamental motifs with one of the most technically difficult forms of psaligraphy, until her death in 1977.

The German word for papercuts, scherenschnitte, literally translates into English as “scissor cuts.” The term encompasses a wide range of recurrent themes, from geometric designs used to decorate furniture to complex miniature landscapes. Typically cut from black paper using small embroidery scissors, scherenschnitte are then backed with a variety of materials using paste. Several works in this exhibition are accented using painted backgrounds or inlaid tissue paper to create more fully dimensional images, a stylistic convention particular to Austria.

”Traditionally, these types of work have been viewed as folk art, distinctive from the more aristocratic silhouette portraiture that became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries,” says Black. “The earliest extant examples of these works in northern Europe date to the 16th century; however, it is widely accepted that basic paper-cutting techniques and technology were introduced to Europe from the Middle East during the late medieval period.”

Although the art of the silhouette can be created using a number of different techniques, Allmayer preferred hollow-cutting, a process in which the artist cuts away the center of the paper leaving a design that is connected by the exterior border. This technique involves not only dexterous scissor-work, but also detailed planning to assure all elements of the final composition remain connected. These fragile, lace-like papercuts, with their richly detailed compositions, stand as a testament to Allmayer’s craftsmanship and skill.

The works on view were obtained during a visit to the artist’s studio in 1961 by Mrs. Fred E. Crutchley of Eugene, who took note of Allmayer’s esteemed status among her contemporaries and subsequently donated to the museum’s collection in 1962.

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