Stuart Forster tries his hand at decoupage: Alpine art in Switzerland.
Scalpel in hand, I hestitate before making my incision. “That’s it, cut along the line you’ve drawn,” says Corinne Karnstädt, encouraging my first attempt at decoupage, the artform at which she excels.
Exquisite, framed examples of decoupage are displayed around us – on the walls of the Museum of the Pays d’Enhaut in the small Swiss town of Château d’Oex – depicting idealised scenes of Alpine life. Their creators were clearly a lot more skilled with a blade than I am in cutting away sections of heavy black paper to create silhouette like shapes of trees, farmers, cows and chalets.
Designing on a Single Sheet
The real skill, it seems, is in creating a design on a single sheet of paper. The finished works are then mounted on a white background to show them off.
Corinne comes from La Tine and became interested in decoupage in 2008 after seeing the works of Hans Jakob Hauswirth (1809 – 1871) and Louis Saugy (1871 – 1953), recognised as leading exponents of the art. Their work is among the 60 or so works on display in the museum, which also holds cow bells, military artefacts and skis dating from the 14th century.
From a Hobby to Decoupage Courses
What started as a self-taught hobby has become a key part of Corinne’s daily life and she now gives decoupage courses. She’s one of around 500 members of the Swiss Association for the Friends of Paper Cutting and is writing a book on decoupage. Corinne is knowledgeable about the history of decoupage and explains that its origins within central Europe can be traced to the 16th century. It’s also practiced in the Balkans and in China.
This artform has close associations with the Pays d’Enhaut region. “Many works of decoupage from le Pays-d’Enhaut tell the story of the life of farmers going up the mountains with cows to make cheese – Poya – and when they come down into the valley in September – Desalpe – for the winter,“ explains Corinne.
So do the scenes have to be traditional?
“I find inspiration all around me. I observe a lot many things and after that I draw my motifs. I often use the internet. I love to represent fashionable ladies in my decoupage. I mix the modern world with Alpine life. In my work you can find some ladies with stilettos and mini skirts going up the mountain with cows and farmers,” says Corinne.
”To start decoupage you need a cutter, black paper and a pencil. You also need to learn the base technique of cutting and be competent in drawing. Drawing is the most important element in decoupage. When you’re finished drawing you need to cut away all the little pieces of paper and open it. There are no rules to make decoupage; each artist can do as they want, there are no limits,” she says.
Patience is a Virtue
Patience is also essential. I learn that it’s possible to glue errors but they’ll remain visible. As a consequence some practicioners of decoupage prefer to throw away damaged pieces. My cuts look jagged in comparison to the smooth lines produced by Corinne, who doesn’t count how long she spends on each piece and regards them as labours of love.
Each year she now participates in the valley’s Christmas market and creates pieces for calendars, postcards and diaries. She also creates bespoke works for a wide range of clients.
On a folded piece of black paper Corinne sketches a series of lines and then makes cuts using a scalpel, revealing a snowman and figures wearing scarves. Unfolding it reveals a symmetrical Christmas scene complete with mountains and a starry sky. She makes it look easy.
Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.
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