Just as the "Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker's Tales of Slavery and Power" exhibit of paper silhouettes of the American slavery experience is set to close on April 6, another show, "The Delicate World of Josefine Allmayer: Papercuts From the Permanent Collection" has gone up at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.
The two use the same general idea of presenting the world in a two-dimensional outline that gives the viewer a chance to imagine the details. Of course, the size of the works and subject matter are vastly different.
Where the Kara Walker exhibit uses modern techniques and huge silhouettes, Josefine Allmayer -- who died in her native Austria in 1977 at age 73, when Walker was still in elementary school in Stockton, Calif. -- used tiny, fine-bladed embroidery scissors to create amazingly intricate papercuts. The pieces are so small that it's necessary to get up close to appreciate their detail.
What's equally amazing is that the 29 papercuts on display are part of a group of 35 original, signed works by Allmayer that have been residing in a vault in the museum since the 1970s.
June Black, the museum's assistant curator for the arts of Europe and the Americas, and co-curator Faith Kreskey were thrilled by the discovery.
"There's fairly little known about Josefine Allmayer," Black said. "She apparently learned papercutting from her father, who also was an artist who would go to a small resort town outside Vienna and do quick silhouettes for tourists to help support the family."
Papercutting was considered a "sort of domestic craft" at that time, Black said.
"It was about the same time that abstract expressionism was coming into vogue, and that was considered more avant-garde and interesting. But now, papercutting and other crafts seem to be experiencing a resurgence, although many artists now use laser techniques instead of scissors."
The UO received Allmayer's art from Eugene resident Mrs. Fred E. Crutchley, who traveled to Vienna in the early 1960s, came across Allmayer and was captivated by her skill.
"According to the information we have, Mrs. Crutchley went to Josefine's studio and bought all these works," Black said. "They are all signed, which is quite interesting.
"A person from another museum who saw them said it is quite shocking for a museum to have signed, original pieces by Allmayer."
As gifts to the museum go, Crutchley's "is relatively small," which may be one reason why the papercuts remained unobserved for so long in the vault, Black said.
Another factor might be "that the museum has never had a dedicated space for European art before. But now we do, and it is wonderful to be able to show this small collection."
Papercutting developed as a folk art in the 16th century -- introduced from the Middle East -- and became popular among the noble classes as portraiture in the 18th and 19th centuries. But Allmayer's skill elevates the technique to a higher level.
Allmayer used many layers of tissue paper, which enabled her to introduce color and shading in her work, a feature that was particular to Austrian artists, Black said.
The papercuts on display at the museum include groupings that represent life along the Danube River, such as travelers trudging through snow, goatherds tending their flocks, even gnomes smoking pipes.
One set consists of portraits of major composers, such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert and Johann Strauss.
Some of Allmayer's pieces are "hollow-cut," a technique in which the artist cuts the image outward from the center of the paper, all while keeping the design connected to an outer border.
"It's very difficult, because it has to be carefully planned and executed to make sure that all the elements remain connected," Black said.