“KIRTIE” Cutwork Picture

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By John Brown Walker, Ohio, Probably Third Quarter 19th Century. Paper, gold foil paper and colored paper. 14¾ x 11¾ inches

Surmounted by a banner inscribed “KIRTIE”, the scene symmetrically cut with flowers, leaves, roosters, birds and horses, all flanking a central photograph of a boy and his dog, with gold foil and colored paper inserts.

This elaborate and symmetrical cutout picture is a superlative example of the work of John Brown Walker (1815-1908), an itinerant artist who worked in rural areas of Michigan, Northeastern Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Brown followed an international and long-standing tradition of paper cutting (ie., the Polish “Wycinaki”, the Chinese “Hua Yang”, the Japanese “Kirigami” and the German and Swiss “Scherenschnitte”.) The art form saw a rise in popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries, when paper and scissors became more readily available. Walker was unusual in that he used a knife; this suggests he may have been trained as a stencil cutter. The intricacy of the piece demonstrates his superior ability and elevates this piece from simply a decorative token to a masterpiece of folk art.

For more information on Walker, and other similar examples, see Your Wellwishes, J.B. Walker: A Midwestern Paper Cut-Out Artist, Michigan State University Museum, (Lansing, 1979).

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