Karen Bit Vejle cracks the code of paper cutting

Remember cutting paper snowflakes as a kid? Folding squares of paper, then cutting along their edges, and finally opening them up to reveal a rather chunky looking snowflake or a mess of cuttings that promptly fell apart in your hands.

Karen Bit Vejle’s paper cuttings involve that same process, but the results are incomparably delicate and lovely.

Karen Bit Vejle stands in front of “Association of Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 1 Op. 8”  American Swedish Institute

Vejle, who asks people to call her “Bit,” is a Danish-Norwegian artist whose work is currently adorning the walls of the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.

“There’s a lot of mathematics,” explained the statuesque Scandinavian, sitting at a table at Fika, ASI’s in house restaurant. “You must fold the paper one, two, three, sometimes four times. The magic is that it hangs together as one piece; once you’ve cracked the code it’s like a gift.”

While her work displays the skill and mastery of a long-time practitioner, she’s only been showing it to the public for the last six years.

Detail, Frank’s View Of Things the Day H.C. Lumbye, 69 Birds And A Few Others Settled In The Royal Tree Without Permission by Danish-Norwegian artist Karen Bit Vejle American Swedish Institute

Growing up in Denmark, Vejle would,  like other children, make paper cut designs for Christmas and Easter. It wasn’t until she was 16 that she saw the work of a psaligrapher, or professional paper cutter. She began cutting paper in earnest in her spare time, and stored her finished pieces under a rug.

As a teenager she would fall asleep at night creating images in her head, figuring out where she would need to make cuts and in what order.

“It’s like a dance between the blades and paper,” mused Vejle. “I feel a peace in my heart and soul when I’m cutting.”

Karen Bit Vejle demonstrates the art of cutting paper, or “psaligraphy.” American Swedish Institute

In Norway, Vejle worked as a producer for a popular TV show, but a sudden illness forced her to quit.

When a colleague came to her home to visit, he found her cutting away at her latest creation. He convinced her she needed to show her work. Now she often receives commissions, including a major piece for the fashion powerhouse Hermès, as well as a visual response to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 1 Opus 8.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the ASI is also presenting works by local psaligrapher Sonja Peterson and offering a class on paper cutting in conjunction with the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.

Open Eye Figure Theater is also presenting an original play based on the legacy of Hans Christian Anderson, who was known for his talent with paper and scissors.

“Papercut! The Incredible Psaligraphy of Karen Bit Vejle” runs through May 25 at the American Swedish Institute.

  • mark

    Marianne’s interview on Current about karen Vejle paper artwork was delightful, I’m taking the whole family to see this. Have a son who loves origami and we all need a winter escape! Vejle’s work at ASI sounds perfect!