Paper cut workshop with the Nuns at Stanbrook Abbey, North Yorkshire

by Anita Bowerman January 20, 2018

Anita Bowerman with the Nuns of Stanbrook Abbey

Last year I was so privileged to be introduced, via a friend, to the Nuns of Stanbrook Abbey in North Yorkshire.

I discovered that this Benedictine order of Nuns, which dates back centuries and originated in Cambrai in Northern France used to paper cut in the 17th century as a way of earning a living. This art had been lost over the years.

I was honoured when I was invited to see the Nuns' historic artwork which had been delicately cut with tiny scissors. Minute paper cuts were presented to me. They were breath-taking, exquisite and so complex, that it was hard to believe that they had been created in only dim light with tiny scissors by the Nuns in France. Some had beautiful illustrations in the middle, and what is more, they are so perfectly preserved.

One paper cut was particularly complex and it is impossible to comprehend the skill that was needed to create it. The subject of the paper cut is the English Coat of Arms which is particularly precious to the Nuns as it was smuggled into prison when they were arrested during the French Revolution. Indeed, I was told that some orders of Nuns were guillotined, which was horrifying to hear.

At the end of the meeting, a Sister asked me if I would teach the community how to paper cut so that they too could continue this time honoured tradition into the 21st Century.

So it was, in November 2017, I taught a class of Nuns aged from 30 up to 80 the art of paper cutting. Each pupil had a paper cutting knife, a cutting mat, pencil, ruler and paper. I had drawn out a template for each to begin cutting on. After the demonstration where I showed them the techniques of the craft, they began to master the art. I was amazed at how well and quickly they learnt it, producing fine work. I had created a cut out of an angel image taken from a statue that had been relocated to the Church from their previous Abbey which I showed the Nuns.

I brought Bettys mince pies along for the break which the Nuns adored as they are a closed order and do not go out, all part of the experience I felt.

The Abbey is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. It was designed by award winning architects after this Order of Nuns relocated to the edge of the National Park in North Yorkshire from an Abbey in Worcestershire in 2009. It is the world's first eco-friendly nunnery and has a wood chip boiler, solar panels and a sedum roof. Situated near Ampleforth it enjoys stunning views for miles around. I love everything about this stunning place, especially one particular room which features a convex cross window where the light streams in.

At the end of the workshop, I was amazed by the high quality of work produced and everyone thoroughly enjoyed their day.

Simon Dewhurst, a fantastic photographer I have used before had come to photograph the day as I knew the story would be of great interest. Simon’s photographs featured in the Yorkshire Post in January. Indeed this photograph shows me holding up the Angel in front of the Chapel.

Anita Bowerman in front of the Chapel at Stanbrook Abbey



Anita Bowerman
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