by Yal Adar
When I first met Archie Granot, in 2001,at his gallery/studio in the heart of Jerusalem, he told me that he was working on a special commission – a full length Haggadah, for a client from the United States. I could only try to contemplate the amount of work that must go in to a piece of work so monumental. Granot is a master paper cutter, whose works can be found in private and public collections around the world. He recently told me that he is still working on the Haggadah and that he will most likely be working on it for another three or four years.
Granot’s tool of choice is a scalpel, not the scissors that are typically used in papercuts. He has no formal art education, yet his works are on display at major public collections, including; Jewish Museum, (New York), Victoria and Albert Museum, Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshivah University Museum. In Israel his works can found at the Presidents' Residence, Bar Ilan University, Hebrew University, and the Israel Museum.
The art of paper cutting has been a popular Jewish folk art for hundreds of years. There seems to be an agreement that the first apparent reference of Jews involved in paper cutting was that of Rabbi Shem-Tov ben Yitzhak ben Ardutiel, in 1345. In The War of the Pen against the Scissors he mentioned that when his ink froze during the cold winter nights, he cut the letters instead.
Jewish papercuts became popular at about the seventeenth century (although there seem to be differing reports regarding the exact timing of their rise in popularity). Jews who lived in Moslem countries were familiar with the art of paper cutting even before it became popular in Christian Europe. Among the Jews of Poland, papercuts were popular particularly during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, until World War II. Most of the Jewish papercut artists were men, many of who were Yeshiva students. This art form saw a decline in the last century, with the dissolution of major Jewish centers in Europe. In recent years, Israeli artists such as Granot have been breathing new life into the traditional Jewish papercuts.
In China it was common practice to decorate the windows with papercuts featuring flowers and animals. In Persia, the art reached its peak in the fifteenth century, in the form of leather book
cover decorations. Jewish papercuts often had a religious theme and did not feature human portraits that were so common in the paper-cuts of Holland and Germany.
Two of the most common functional uses for Jewish papercuts were Ketubot, or marriage contracts and Mizrachs. A Mizrach (which means east in Hebrew) is a special plaque that was placed on the eastern wall of a Jewish home (or synagogue), so that during prayer the worshipers would face Jerusalem.
Granot, (whose background is Russian Studies) didn’t make his first paper cut until 1979. This year he was only Israeli artist to be featured in the 2001 edition of Nouvel Objet, a prestigious
South Korean art periodical, that specializes in 'Objet Art’.
Aside from the technique that he developed for his works, one of things that make his works so special is that they are not symmetrical, like most papercuts. His work is heavily influenced by his surroundings and his papercuts often include hand cut Hebrew inscriptions that are somehow connected to Jerusalem. The precision of his calligraphy is amazing.
To create his works he uses acid free art papers from around the world including: France, Germany, Sweden,Italy, Japan, USA, Spain as well as a unique paper that is hand made from straw in Israel. His works are made of multi layers of paper. For instance, his Gematria Mezuzah™ is made from 65 layers of paper.
Granot recently returned from the United States where he conducted paper-cutting workshops. Workshops are best suited for 20-25 participants and can be adapted for both children and adults. In these workshops participants work with scissors, not a scalpel.
He now also offers limited edition laser cuts, which can be personalized.
Archie Granot Papercuts, by appointment only.
TEL 02-625-2210, 054-464-1568 Toll free from the U.S. at 1-866-475-7697
Website: Archie Granot Papercuts