Israeli papercut artist Yehudit Shadur’s work is based on a simple technique familiar to all children: cutting a folded piece of paper to produce a symmetrical design once the sheet is opened.
“I start a new papercut by creating the design on a plain sheet of paper,” said Shadur. “I then transfer it onto one-half of a folded sheet of paper. Working on a board and a wad of newspaper, I cut the design with a small sharp knife.”
Shadur will be lecturing on and demonstrating the traditional Jewish folk art of paper cutting at Temple Beth Am’s first artist-in-residence weekend Feb. 23-25, co-sponsored by the Seattle–Beer Sheva Sister City Committee. Her activities will include a lecture entitled “Spiritual Influences on Artistic Expression” on Friday, Feb. 23, at 8 p.m. (at the conclusion of the Shabbat service) and another lecture on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 7:30 p.m. on life in the Negev during the early days of the State of Israel. This presentation is in memory of local papercut artist Harold Rosenbaum. On Sunday, Feb. 25 at 10 a.m., Shadur will show slides of her work and other examples of this art form, which is said to be as old as paper itself. Shadur will conduct two workshops on paper cutting on Sunday afternoon.
According to Shadur, the earliest papercuts date back 1,500 years and were discovered in excavated tombs in China. An early reference to Jews making papercuts is an essay by the 14th-century scholar and poet Rabbi Shem-Tov ben Yitzchak ben Ardotiel of Spain entitled “The War of the Pen Against the Scissors,” which was “written” in cut-out letters. During the 17th and 18th centuries, papercuts were used to decorate Italian ketubot (marriage contracts). In the 19th century, the art of papercut gained popularity in Eastern Europe where folk artists created mizrach (east) plaques marking the wall facing Jerusalem. Papercuts were also used as decorations for the sukkah, home and synagogue, and Jews in North Africa even made papercut amulets.
Shadur’s work is well known internationally and is included in the collections of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Magnes Museum of Judaica in Berkeley, Calif., and the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. One of her mural-sized papercuts is fitted into a seven-foot–high arched window at the Citadel in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Shadur grew up in Milwaukee, Wis., and studied art in Milwaukee, London and New York. She settled in Israel in 1950, first in Kibbutz Nirim in the western Negev and later in Jerusalem. She made her first papercuts in 1966 at the College of the Negev at Sdeh Boqer, where she taught art. With her students, she decorated a large sukkah built to receive guests who were visiting David Ben Gurion on his 80th birthday. Their joint efforts resulted in a splendid sukkah, richly decorated with colorful papercuts, pictures and fruit. For the center of the wall facing Jerusalem, Shadur made a large papercut mizrach. Ben Gurion’s warm response to her mizrach inspired Shadur to deepen her involvement in this Jewish folk art. Shadur also works in landscape drawing and various printmaking techniques.
To complement this artist-in-residence weekend, during February and March, Temple Beth Am will display works by Shadur and Rosenbaum as well as other local papercut artists including Judith Hankin, Sharyn Sowell and Cathy Shiovitz.
All events are offered by Temple Beth Am and the Beer Sheva Sister City Association free of charge, although a contribution of $10 is suggested for the lecture on Saturday night and a registration fee of $35 is required for the workshops. Temple Beth Am is located at 2632 N.E. 80th St. Call 206-525-0915.
Sharon K. Gang is a member of Temple Beth Am and visited Shadur’s studio during a Temple Beth Am trip to Israel last spring.