Vytynanky – Cutting Edge Craft

The intricate art of vytynanky is believed to have originated among upper class Ukrainians and government officials toward the end of the 15th or early 16th century, taking some years before it filtered through to the general population. Decorative paper cut-outs were first used in the sealing of private letters and official documents, where the patterned cut-out would receive a drop of sealing wax imprinted with an official or family seal. This was common practice in many European countries at the time, with the cost of the colored paper putting it out of reach for most households.

During the 19th century paper became more affordable and the art of vytynanky began to develop and spread across Ukraine as a means of decoration, with some cut-outs taking on symbolic meaning and the art becoming an integral part of the country’s tradition and culture. Through the writings of 19th century Ukrainian author Hryhoriy Kvitka-Osnovyanenko it is known that vytynanky was used extensively in the interior of the houses of peasants, and at that time the craft was known by a number of names in different regions, including kvity, stryhuntsi and khrestyky. By the early 20th century, vytynanky became the most widely used name for the increasingly popular decorative art.

The subject matter of vytynanky is unlimited, with symmetrical figures of people, plants and animals being popular themes, and vytynanky began to be written about, collected and exhibited, often along with traditional crafts such as embroidery, pottery and rugs. The biggest problem facing collectors was how to preserve these delicate creations, and historic collections are generally kept under controlled conditions in museums such as the Museum of Ethnography and Applied arts in Lviv.

In everyday life, people would simply make new vytynanky from time to time as they washed down walls or repainted the interior of their homes. Special occasions called for particularly intricate vytynanky symbolizing the occasion, such as Christmas or Easter. Popular themes for weddings include doves, flowers and trees, for peace, prosperity and new life. For a time in the 1960s and 1970s it appeared that vytynanky may die out, but the craft experienced a revival and today children at school are taught the basics of the art, ensuring that it lives on. Vytynanky varies from region to region, with some remaining monochrome, others being multi-colored, and some even being embellished with beads and other colorful or shiny items. Certainly, this wonderful Ukrainian craft can be as limitless as its creator’s imagination.