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For the Birds

photos courtesy of Maude White

Paper carver Maude White talks about her extraordinary art

This week’s Artvoice cover features Buffalo artist Maude White. White works primarily in cut paper to reveal beautifully intricate birds, elephants, people, and more. Each detailed piece is precisely cut to reveal a unique story. White’s fourth exhibition, Birds I’ve Been will be on display this Friday at the Western New York Book Arts Center. More of her artwork can be seen at We had the pleasure of talking to Maude about her artwork, her influences and what goes into making all those tiny cuts.

AV: What compelled you to start carving Paper?

Maude White: I’ve never been a book reader, but I collect books. In a way, I’m more fascinated by the weight and permanence, the constancy of paper, than I am interested in what’s written on paper. I started cutting paper because I wanted to have a conversation with the paper, not a conversation using the paper. I didn’t want to write on the paper, I wanted to write in the paper and in that way start a more symbiotic relationship with the paper. I have great respect for paper. I trust it. There is something very comforting and safe about cutting into the paper, discovering some story hidden inside.

AV: What are some challenges you face when working in that medium?

MW: I’ve said this as a joke, but it’s true nonetheless: there is no going back from the knife. One of the challenges of papercutting is the permanence of each cut. With a knife there’s no erasing, there’s no painting over, there’s no backspace. I have to be very sure I want to make each cut before I put my blade to the paper. Very often this is satisfying and empowering, but sometimes it can be stressful. Also, I sometimes find that the cut paper I end up with isn’t anything like the image I’d imagined cutting. I’m always learning and adjusting.

AV: What is the Story behind the name Brave Bird?

MW: I’ve always been fascinated by birds and feathers. I’ve always thought of myself as a bird. The slang term ‘bird’ originated in Britain in the early 1900s to describe a young female. It wasn’t necessarily a respectful term, more along the lines of ‘babe’ or ‘broad.’ This fascinated me because birds as a species hold so much historical weight and nobility. They evolved from dinosaurs! In a way I want to connect that ancient, fierce creature with the woman of today, the woman I would like to be. I don’t often feel brave. Bravery is a word not often used these days but I think it is a very powerful word and I want it to be shared and meant and believed. My new show ‘Birds I’ve Been’ plays with this theme of birds and women.

AV: Who are some of your influences as an artist?

MW: Growing up I was strongly influenced by Maxfield Parrish. I’ve always thought of myself as a storyteller, and the illustrators from the early 1900s also gave me a great deal of joy and inspiration. I’ve always loved and been awed by Dore. As far as papercutting goes, I am constantly blown away by Emma Van Leest, Peter Callesen, Su Blackwell and Hina Aoyama.

AV: You are an extremely prolific artist, what keeps you motivated?

MW: I cut paper because I feel like I have to. It is a way for me to relax and be in control. Many times, the cutting becomes a meditative act. I’ve been called an obsessive worker and it’s true; I have OCD. I am really proud of myself that I have found a way to use that part of my mind to create something. I’m just getting started. With every piece I cut I learn something new about the paper and my relationship with the paper and the knife. We are constantly evolving. I’m excited to learn more and cut more.

AV: Do you have any advice for other aspiring artists?

MW: I think that craft is just as important and valuable as art. I would tell any aspiring artist that to be a craftsperson is a great thing. Art and craft can go hand in hand, and sometimes craft comes first. I think I am a craftsperson. I know I am learning and taking steps toward being an artist but I know that I have a long way to go till I feel comfortable and confident. Craft is something with a base, a foundation. If you’re struggling with your identity as an artist, remember that you have a craft, which is worthy of respect.

AV: What Inspires you?

MW: Patterns inspire me. Nature inspires me. I love finding and even inventing patterns in nature. Motion, and cutting things in motion, inspires me. Water inspires me, and, of course, birds.

AV: What is your favorite piece or artwork that you’ve created so far and why?

MW: Immediately after I finish a piece I usually dislike it. Later, I’m able to look at it more objectively and see its strengths. Favorite would be the wrong word, but the piece I’m most proud of is January 2014 from my show this September at WNYBAC. It is the first piece I’ve cut of myself. It is also a piece that represents an event in my life that was very traumatizing, both physically and emotionally. I am proud of myself for being able to cut it.

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