Marcia Strykowski

Hans Christian Andersen’s Paper Art

I’ve been busy writing and editing, hence the gap between posts this month, but I’ve also been thinking about the art of paper-cutting. I’ve always found this craft fun to do and fascinating to see displayed. I went to a wonderful exhibit of paper cutting at the Currier Museum in Manchester, NH, last May. As usual, I’m kicking myself for not taking notes, but I was allowed to take pictures which I hope to share at some point. Since way back around the fourth century in China, people have been cutting paper into patterns. Not only to be useful but for decorations, too. This folk art spread through the trade routes of the Middle East and eventually trickled into Europe. By the seventeenth century, paper cutters in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Poland, and Holland were developing individual cutting styles depending on their region. All this leads us to the extremely talented Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875). Although better known for screen and stage adaptations of The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea, The Ugly Duckling, and many other beloved stories, the Danish storyteller’s paper cutting abilities were just as imaginative and clever as his wonderful fairy tales. About 1,000 of these beautifully detailed illustrations still exist in museums around the world.

Hans carried a huge pair of long heavy scissors with him everywhere he went. Often a crowd would gather and he would snip whole whimsical scenes while reciting his tales to attentive audiences. At the end of the story he’d carefully unfold his intricate work for all to see.I’ve done a lot of paper cutting with very tiny pointy scissors and I can’t imagine accomplishing anything as detailed and brilliant as the above full fairy tale from circa 1864.

The below painting is by Karl Hartmann (1818-1857).One of many sculptures of HCA, this one in New York City. Do you have a favorite Hans Christian Andersen story?

57 Comments

  1. Michele

    Beautiful work! I’ve been to his home in Odense. We also share a birthday…fortunately, not the same year!

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    • Oh, how fun to share his birthday! My great grandmother’s maiden name was Andersen ,so I like to pretend (to myself) that Hans and I are somehow related. 🙂 And Odense! I didn’t realize you’ve been to Denmark, it’s on my bucket list. Nice to hear from you Michele!

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  2. I had no ideas that he was also a paper cutter. So talented! Good to see a photo, and somehow I could see a glimpse of Danny Kaye, who portrayed Anderson in the movie. I’m sorry I missed this exhibit at the Currier. Thank you for a wonderful post, Marcia.

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    • Yes, Danny Kaye did a great job of portraying Andersen. I don’t believe the Currier had any of his work in their display, but there were some wonderful creations of all sizes and time periods. Maybe there’ll be another chance to see the collection at some point. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I liked “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Princess and the Pea.” I remember a volume with illustrations by Arthur Rackham: a very proud (and naked!) Emperor strutting through the town; and the Princess lying wayyy up on top of colorful mattresses that reached the ceiling. Maybe in “The Illustrated Treasury of Children’s Literature”?? Anyway, those two stories especially delighted me as a kid.

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    • Fun choices! Arthur Rackham was certainly one of the best fairy tale illustrators. That emperor must have been quite shocking (I’m almost thinking I remember those illustrations from my own childhood). Today’s kids probably wouldn’t bat an eye. 🙂

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    • Joyce Ray

      These are exactly the two stories that I loved to hear over and over. The illustrations you remember seem very familiar to me. Thanks for this post, Marcia. I was sorry to have missed the Currier exhibit at the time.

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      • Funny how special childhood memories stick in our heads forever. I wish you could have seen the exhibit, Joyce. It seemed to be mostly new artists, but I think the Currier also included several older pieces from their permanent collection. Maybe they’ll run it again sometime. Hope all is going well and that I’ll run into you one of these days!

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  4. I didn´t realize this brilliant man was also a talented paper cutter. Good luck with your writing and editing.

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    • Thanks, Darlene. If only there were more hours in a day, we could fulfill all our interests. Although, I guess we could be like Hans and do two things at once. Can you imagine telling a complete story while cutting out matching illustrations?!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post, Marcia – very informative! Thanks for sharing!😘😘😘

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  6. Fascinating, Marcia! I’m thrilled to learn something new about Hans. I always loved Thumbelina.
    I happen to know through SCBWI (Australia) contemporary paper cutter artist, Kathleen Jennings! She is an illustrator whose paper cuttings, maps and pen and inks grace books by top authors like Holly Black. It is fascinating to follow her on Twitter because she sometimes includes her cutting process or shares tiny snippets of her work. Check out kathleenjennings.com to see some of her beautiful paper cuttings. Thanks again for a great post.

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    • I’ll have to look up Kathleen and see if her work is familiar to me. I love some of the recent picture books illustrated all in paper cuttings. Thanks for the information, Ali!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such a lovely post. I had no idea that he was so talented in this craft, but it doesn’t surprise me. So whimsical. And the fact that he did them with big heavy scissors is amazing!

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  8. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing that. My husband enjoyed it, too.

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  9. Wonderful post! No one really talks about this hobby of his, although it is so exemplary of his delicate creativity. Fascinating!

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    • It was quite a marketing trick when you think about it. Some authors bring brownies to their book signings, he brought full scale entertainment. Thanks, Michele!

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  10. Thanks for this enjoyable post, Marcia. I didn’t know this about Hans Christian Anderson. Now I do. If I was to think of a famous paper cutter, I would have said Matisse. I thought you were preparing for Hans Christian Anderson Day, which is coming up soon. I think my favourite story is The Ugly Duckling.

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    • I considered waiting to post this until April 2nd, his birthday, but since I missed it other years, I figured I’d get right to it. Matisse created gorgeous, colorful, paper art, thanks for reminding me, Norah!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Colleen

    i have always loved The Snow Queen. The paper cutting is EXQUISITE! What a gift to the world HCA is. I love Danny Kaye as HCA-I have seen that movie on tv and video so many times…Perfect casting! Thank you for another fascinating post, Marcia!

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    • The Snow Queen has certainly become even more popular ever since the movie Frozen was released. I’m happy you enjoyed the post, Colleen, hope all is well!

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  12. Bette Norton

    It was very fun to learn more about Hans Christian Anderson. I had no idea he could paper cut like that! I am in awe that Hans could tell a story and cut out beautiful intricate designs at the same time and with big scissors. It was fun to see some of his work and some pictures of him. A delightful post! 🙂

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    • Most people would have trouble focusing on two tasks at once, although maybe snipping paper helped him pace the story. If only he’d lived twenty years longer and someone had filmed him in action, that would be a sight to see!

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  13. Those paper cuttings are exquisite. Thanks for sharing them. It’s hard for me to choose which Anderson I like the best. I like how the theme of redemption is prominent in so many of his stories. The main character starts out evil or selfish but is humbled and becomes repentant as in the Girl Who Stood on a Loaf of Bread.

    I think, however, my favorite is the Little Mermaid. In the story she does not get the man but is able to attain something higher and I like that better than the normal love story formula. I guess that’s why I like the Steadfast Tin Soldier as well.

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    • I almost included the Steadfast Tin Soldier in my post and now I’ve just looked up and read the Girl Who Trod on the Loaf, such an interesting, sad tale of poor Inger who selfishly attempts to keep her shoes dry. Thanks so much for sharing your interesting thoughts on his work, Sharon.

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  14. mirkabreen

    THE LITTLE MATCHGIRL. I can’t read it without sobbing, no matter how many times.
    I also noticed it breaks most of today’s how-to PBs writing advice, as in “happy endings,” “show don’t tell,” “The MC must solve their problem,” and I could go on and on.

    My Facebook profile photo currently is at the very Central Park statue you have there. 🙂

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    • So many of the old tales seem to be written by old rules or no rules at all, makes you wonder how many would get a chance to shine in today’s world. Now that you mention it, I remember that picture of you and Hans!

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  15. What an interesting post Marcia!! I had never heard that Hans Christian Andersen had that talent! I saw above in the comments that someone had been to his home– We tried to visit there with our kids, but spent too much time at Legoland and it was closed when we arrived!! But we read his stories in the car on our long road trip from Spain and back. Love your author posts– I always learn something! Sounds like you’re busy!! You have a new book coming along, right?? So exciting! xox

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    • That must have been disappointing to find his home had closed for the day. Even seeing the outside and the road he travelled would be fun for me, though. Nice choice for road trip stories. I’m thinking I should reread some of his tales and I’m sure there’s plenty I missed, too.

      If all goes well, my new book: Roller Boy will be out next fall! It will be another tween book. I wonder if my Amy books are in your library system, your granddaughters might be the right age for them (8-9 & up). Thanks for asking about my work, Rhonda. 🙂

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      • That would be perfect Marcia– They do have Amy’s Choice at our library– I checked it out and read it along time ago when I first read your blog… Keep us posted about Roller Boy!! I can’t imagine how it is producing a whole story, all the imagining and editing… So exciting! xox

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        • Oh, I didn’t realize you read Amy’s Choice. Hopefully it stood alone okay. It’s funny how some libraries added the sequel without the first book and vice versa. Either way, fun to know it’s available where you live. 🙂 xo

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          • Hi Marcia– gosh, I think it would be exciting to know my books (not that I’ve come close to writing a book!) were being read all over he country! Think how many people you’ve given to… Hope you’re making good progress as you write away. xox

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  16. Ashley

    This is very awesome! I love his fairy tales. My favorite is The Snow queen. What a clever man!!

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  17. Beautiful . . . These photos make me want to try paper cutting. I’ve never done anything more complicated than snowflakes and valentines.

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    • There’s something about cutting paper, a good way to clear the mind, perhaps. 🙂

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  18. Wow! I had no idea – what a diverse set of talents!

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  19. A lovely post, Marcia. My favourite Hans Christian Anderson story is The Elf Mound.

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  20. Wow! I had no idea he was also a paper artist. Amazing! Sounds like a fascinating exhibit. I can’t imagine creating paper art with long scissors. Definitely a skill and an art.

    As a child I would read my collection of his stories regularly. I had many favorites. Three that stand out right now are Thumbelina, The Princess and the Pea and the Little Match Girl.

    Thanks for sharing.

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    • Great story choices, Stephanie! I think Hans would be amazed to discover so many of his cutouts still exist almost 200 years later.

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  21. What a fantastic blog, Marcia and I love this informative post. Thank-you so much for visiting my blog and for the follow.

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  22. Thanks Marcia for sharing! What neat illustrations Hans made from paper, and especially to think of the fact that he cut those while telling stories. I enjoyed reading your blog.
    Please check my blog out when you have the chance. Thank you.

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    • Yes, I don’t know how Hans could focus on both storytelling and paper-cutting at the exact same time. Thanks for your visit and comment. 🙂 I’m looking forward to checking out your blog!

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