“Nikki McClure: Life in Balance” at Mystic Seaport

In the early 2nd century, paper was invented in China by Cai Lun.

Almost at once artists of one fashion or another began using it to create art. Instantly we think of the masters who dabbed paint on that paper to create breathtaking art. But others chose a very different route. They created art simply by cutting it.

Papercutting has been embraced for more than 1600 years in countries as varied as Indonesia, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Israel, the Philippines and throughout China, Japan and India.

The art initially took the form of religious iconography, but over the centuries, artists expanded their subject matter. From high art to folk art, papercutting allowed people to celebrate and remember loved ones, special events like marriage contracts or favorite animals, floral designs, holiday images and, of course, historical, political and religious figures.

The art form has inspired millions with its intricate and delicate designs. The Chinese paper-cutting form has even been recognized by the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List as representing the cultural values of the Chinese people.

When Mystic Seaport saw the work of Washington State papercut artist Nikki McClure they were inspired by both her skills and her vision. She was invited to create Away, a 59-foot long mural that is on display in the lobby of the Thompson Exhibition Building.

Additionally, 36 pieces of her work were curated into Life in Balance: The Art of Nikki McClure on exhibit now in the C. D. Mallory Building. The exhibition also includes sketches, notes, and an examination of her process of creation.

If you’re only exposure to papercut art is the silhouette of your first pet or girlfriend, then you may well be surprised by the scope and intricacies of the art of cut paper.

The Nikki McClure exhibit is available at the Mystic Seaport thru February 25, 2018.