Local artist talks about her art in #WomenKnowStuffToo event


Linda Emmerson, local artist and Iowa State alumna, spoke about her own art medium of paper cutting as part of the reACT series #WomenKnowStuffToo.

Morrgan Zmolek

In a gallery full of different art forms created by women, Linda Emmerson, local artist and Iowa State alumna, spoke about her own art medium of paper cutting.

As part of the reACT series #WomenKnowStuffToo, Emmerson discussed the history and the process behind her work.

Before the talk began, Emily Morgan, assistant professor in art and visual culture and co-curator of the series, spoke about the purpose of the series and who was involved in making it happen.

The idea behind the hashtag at the beginning of the series name, according to Morgan, was to allow people to continue the conversation about this event and others beyond the walls of the Reiman Gallery in Morrill Hall.

Emmerson began her talk with some history about paper cutting. According to her, the art of paper cutting originated in China around 500 A.D. Chinese artists would stack many pieces of thin paper on top of each other and cut through the pile with a sharp chisel to create images.

Emmerson, however, said she learned about this art form while traveling to Switzerland. There, it is called “scherenschnitte,” literally meaning “paper cuts.” In Switzerland, the paper used is black and white, cut with small scissors to show the daily life of the people who live there.

Emmerson, upon seeing this art form, said she was very interested in it and desired to learn it herself. The people who do this art usually do not draw the designs beforehand, simply cutting them as they feel. This did not work for Emmerson, who said she then didn’t believe that she was going to be able to pursue this further.

Later, however, she was sent a box of holiday cookies from her friends in Switzerland, with the tin including some of that paper cutting work on it. That’s when Emmerson said that the desire to create with this art form was reignited in her.

While traditionally paper cutters do not draw their designs beforehand, Emmerson does, and she says that is her favorite part of the work that she does.

“Once you start cutting, you just have to stick at it.” Emmerson said. “That’s when you make your mistakes. The designing part is what I like. It’s the most challenging.”

Emmerson has now been creating art through paper cutting for 40 years. Her work includes commemoratives for weddings, anniversaries and births, but she does do work for herself, too.

In 2003, she was commissioned to create a piece for the Christian Petersen Art Museum. The piece included Morrill Hall and various sculptures present around campus and was presented at the gallery talk.

Emmerson has now changed up how she works and also does collage art with her paper cutting where she takes pieces she has cut and puts them together to create something new.

“I mentioned doing these collage-type things, and I’m sticking with that for a while. I’m doing places that we visited that I particularly liked, so I’m going to continue doing that series of places that we’ve been,” Emmerson said.

Emmerson’s talk was one of three events to be held during the #WomenKnowStuffToo event series where students and staff have the opportunity to talk face-to-face with the artist and ask questions about their work.