Artistic Expression That’s a Cut Above

by Janine Boylan on October 14, 2013

Karen Bit Vejle, showing the artistic expression of cut paper art (Image © Marjaana Malkamäki)

Karen Bit Vejle
Image © Marjaana Malkamäk

The Cut Paper Art of Karen Bit Vejle

Until just a few years ago, Karen Bit Vejle had a secret hidden under her rugs.

Like many in her home country of Denmark, Vejle grew up making gækkebrev, cut paper holiday cards. She discovered that she was rather talented at cutting out the little greetings.

For years, Vejle reserved her paper cutting for the holidays. But the summer she turned 16,  she had an “Oh, I see!” moment:

. . . I saw a man who was sitting in the sun cutting out paper silhouettes with motifs I had never before seen. I was enraptured, and stood there staring for a long time, watching the man as he maneuvered his scissors to bring forth the most beautiful little paper cutting. I was so taken with the idea that I went right home and got my mother’s sewing scissors, and I have never let them out of my sight since.

Karen Bit Vejle, showing the artistic expression of cut paper art (Image © Marjaana Malkamäki)

A ballerina emerges.
Image © Marjaana Malkamäki

No longer waiting for the holidays, Vejle loved to imagine her designs and then work them out in paper. She spent forty years practicing her craft and hiding her work under her rugs because she had nowhere else to keep it.

Unveiled to the World

That changed a few years ago when a friend dropped by unexpectedly. The house was littered with little paper clippings. Her friend looked around, puzzled, and asked what she was doing. So, of course, she had to show him.

The secret was out. Her friend knew Vejle’s work needed to be displayed. His literal “Oh, I see!” moment has led to multiple exhibits of her cut paper pieces. And Vejle is now recognized as one of the most talented artists of psaligraphy, or paper cutting, in the world.

Stories in Paper

Vejle’s work often tells a fairy tale-like story. She says, “When I sit down and go into this flow zone and I’m cutting the paper cuts, the stories come into my head. When I finish the paper cut, the story will be finished as well.”

The work below was done for The Royal Café, located next to the Royal Copenhagen porcelain factory. The frame of Vejle’s cut paper work is inspired by the mussel pattern decoration on Royal Copenhagen dishes.

Artistic expression of Karen Bit Vejle's cut paper art. (Image courtesy Karen Bit Vejle)

Frank’s view of things the day H.C. Lumbye, 69 birds and a few others
settled in the royal tree without permission, 2011
300 x 220
Frame cut and folded twice, the rest cut asymmetrically
Image courtesy Karen Bit Vejle

When you look closely, the magical story unfolds.

As the artwork’s title suggests, Frank the mouse lives in this tree (he’s at the bottom of the tree in the photo above). H.C. Lumbye is a Danish composer and inspired this story. The tree is filled with birds, cars, flowers, human figures, and delicate marching ants.

Artistic expression of Karen Bit Vejle's cut paper art. (Image © Helle S. Andersen)

detail of Frank’s view of things the day H.C. Lumbye, 69 birds and a few others
settled in the royal tree without permission, 2011
Image by Helle S. Andersen

While it’s easy to imagine stories for the different characters, Vejle shares her thoughts about one particular creature:

. . . you can notice one ant that stands out from the rest. That is Mogens. Mogens has marched along with the others his whole life, from morning until evening, and now he is very tired of it. He dreams about a new and less orderly life. For several says he has thought of a plan to escape the ranks, and this is the very day the plan will come to fruition—he goes undercover as a wasp.

Intricate Cuts

Vejle explains that she used to make several mistakes when she cut her pieces, but now she doesn’t. Nevertheless, whenever she unfolds a piece for the first time to see it, she says, “I wonder what it will look like? Did I manage to achieve the cut I had in mind? It is just as exciting every time—just like opening up an exciting gift.”

Artistic expression of Karen Bit Vejle's cut paper art. (Image © Helle S. Andersen)

Scarab, 2004
43 x 142
Folded one time, symmetrically cut
Image © Helle S. Andersen

Several companies, including Hilton, Hermès, and Porsgrund Porcelain, have taken notice of this artist. She did a window display for the fashion company, and, for the porcelain company, she designed a number of patterns which were transformed into a set of dishes named after her daughter Zeleste.

Hermès display, showing the artistic expression of Ken Bit Vejle's cut paper art. (Image courtesy Karen Bit Vejle)

Hermès window display, featuring La beauté est partout,
quand on sait regarder les choses, 2012
100 x 30 x 100
Image courtesy Karen Bit Vejle

In addition, museums around the world have featured her work in an exhibit called “Scissors for a Brush.”

Karen Bit Vejle's work, showing the artistic expression of cut paper art. (Image © Helle S. Andersen)

Vejle’s art on display.
From left to right: Festina Lente, 2008; Grace, 2007;
Original cutting for a christening blanket, 2008
Image © Helle S. Andersen

ballerina, showing the artistic expression of Karen Bit Vejle's cut paper art. (Image © Bjørn Sigurd Hove)

Ballerina Bulldog, 2011
Image © Bjørn Sigurd Hove

This gentle Dane, who insists she was born with scissors in her hand, shares:

Today everything in the world moves so quickly. But psaligraphy, the art of paper cutting, is an antidote to that world. Paper cutting requires a lot of time and patience, both in creation and experience. If my scissors can make you stop and wonder for just one instant, I think that would be wonderful.

 

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Comments:

10 thoughts on “Artistic Expression That’s a Cut Above

  1. Such a fabulous art form. I visited the ASI (Swedish American Institute) while visiting relatives this past Christmas in Minneapolis, MN, and visited the museum where Vejle’s Psaligraphy was on display. At our Muskegon Museum of Art, Michigan, we now have ‘papercuts’ exhibited. I am amazed at the exciting window displays Vejle has done. Marvelous!

  2. I never knew this exist! This is fantastic! I will share at my facebook pages.
    My friends will love it! Congratulations! millions of times!

    • Did you know that Hans Christian Andersen was an extraordinary paper cutter, too? Vejle actually got to use his scissors when her exhibit was on display at the H.C. Andersen museum at Odense.

  3. Karen’s does fairy tale magic with her scissors and paper! I became enchanted when I first saw it at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle.

    • So glad you got to see her work in person. I hope her exhibit will continue to travel so more can see her stories close up.

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