Flaming June

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Dancing Hares – Seren Papercuts

I can’t believe its been a month since my last blog and what a month of sunshine we have had. Record breaking temperatures and a garden desperately in need of rain after weeks of glorious sunshine. Its been hard to get down to work with so much loveliness outside the studio window.

Papercutting doesn’t lend itself to extreme weather. In the winter too much cold can make your paper damp; in the heat paper doesn’t cut so well, clammy hands can easily tear or crinkle a design and then the thunderflies arrive, crawling into every nook and cranny, behind the glass of every framed piece and creeping all over you while you work.

Fortunately this heat has given us some cooler days when I’ve been able to work and I’ve been inspired this month by some old techniques with local connections. As well as looking at American foil cut papercuts I’ve been reading about the work of an unlikely Regency papercutter from Ipswich – Elizabeth Cobbold (1767-1824), best known as a poet and a member of the influential Suffolk Cobbold family but who also bequeathed to us some beautifully quirky papercuts thanks to her habit of holding an annual Valentine’s Ball at her grand home.

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Elizabeth Cobbold

Cobbold was born Elizabeth Knipe in London and was publishing work before she was 20. Her first marriage, which lasted about a year, was to William Clarke who worked for the customs at Ipswich but for her second she married the Ipswich brewer John Cobbold who had fifteen children when they met. Elizabeth gave him a further seven children making theirs a busy household. Her son, the Rev Richard Cobbold, is well-known locally for his book The History of Margaret Catchpole, a rollocking account of a local girl’s adventures but the family name also lives on in Tolly Cobbold brewery.

The Cobbolds lived at The Cliff and then Holywells Park, Ipswich. Elizabeth was a great hostess and from 1806 was known for her Valentine’s balls which featured homemade Valentine cards with verses written by her. According to contemporary accounts, unmarried guests were invited to pluck out a valentine from a basket. The folded sheets contained verses and a papercut design and were cut in plain uncoloured paper that was afterwards mounted onto red or blue paper.

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The poem here depicts a fortune-teller, and reads:

“Cross My Hand, Worthy Sir, and I’ll freely relate
What for you is inscribed in the records of fate;
Whatever of Magical Skill you can fancy.
Of Palmistry’s Lines, or expert Chiromancy
I know, and am skilled in Egyptian Astronomy,
But an adept am chiefly in grave Physiognomy.
I know by the turn of your Nose and your Chin
At Cards you must lose and in Battle must win;
By the Lines of your Brow and the Form of your Eyes,
One may venture to fancy you valiant and wise.
What more of your Fate would you wish me to prove?
Would you know if your Lot is successful in Love?
A Hint shall suffice, and, since Myst’ry my trade is,
That Lot you must read in the Eyes of the Ladies”

The record office has a collection of Cobbold’s papercuts in its archives and you can find out more about them here

If you want to learn more about her and her techniques then you should also take a look at the fascinating Her Reputation For Accomplishment blog here

Historically papercuts have not always been preserved, probably because of their fragility and disposable nature. Yet its no surprise that the owners of these exquisite little oddities have treasured them and and handed them down the generations.

Cobbold’s designs are often simple but I like the way they wrap themselves around a text, something I hope to experiment with over the summer. I recently bought a collection of copperplate Regency poems which were handwritten into a memory book commemorating the death of a small child. The poems are by Keats and others and as you’d expect are quite melancholy but I’m thinking that it might be possible to papercut around them and create something beautiful for the wall.  I’ve also been looking at American historical cutwork, which is much more intricate, almost like fine lace and also has colours in it which is interesting.

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My interpretations use all my usual motifs – hares, hearts, stars, foliage etc and weave them in a cutwork style. I’ve enjoyed layering the designs up and down the page and I’ve also chosen to mirror my initial designs – there’s something really satisfying about symmetrical designs for me.

My technique is the same for these although the paper I use is thinner than normal. I’ve also stuck with black, mostly because it has a timeless quality about it but also because black on white always puts me in mind of linocuts and block prints – I love those!

Unusually one of my designs features horses, not an animal I use a lot although having finished this piece I’m not sure why I’ve avoided them up to now.

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All these designs will be added to my etsy shop over the summer. In the meantime you can see my shop here

And you can see my work in progress on my Facebook page or on Instagram.

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