This is the sad story of Johann-Jakob Hauswirth. He was a true artist a visual poet of nation’s folklore, but he didn’t know it. He was born in Bernese Saanen in July 1809 from Benedikt and Margrit Luzia Jaggi. He spent his life in Pays-d’Enhault around Château-d’Œx.
He worked as lumberjack and coal burner and was hired by farmers in the area. In the evening, when he was in the farmer’s chalets, he took out paper and scissors and made his cutouts, then he gave them as gift to his guests.
This paper lace were conserved as bookmarks in the family’s Bible or in Psalm’s Book and so Hauswirth was given the nickname of Grand des Marques or Le Vieux des Marques.
He was also known as Trébocons, which means three pieces, as he was tall and big, and had to lean continuously, keeping his head down, as he entered in the wood chalets with low doorways and ceilings. There are not many informations on Hauswirth’s whereabouts, but he probably spent his early years in Simmenthal.
In his first 40 years he didn’t cut and he never married. He was probably a self taught artist. The only trace in the records of the commune of Château-d’Oex was a refusal, in 1847, for a resident’s permit.
He began cutting with folding black or white paper and later, from 1847, he adopted colored paper. The subjects are scene of the rural life he saw and observed, adorned with colorful large bouquets. He moved from farm to farm with his big cart offering his service and he donated his paper cut to the people who were offering him food. He was used to cut them in his house in the long winter evening with his big hands and his thick fingers; he added additional wire rings to his scissors in order to better guide the instrument.
Hauswirth’s was not conscious of his importance and his talent and lived his last third of his life in solitude and in extreme poverty, in a self-made hut on the road to l’Etivaz, at the entrance to the wild Pissot Gorge. He died there alone on March 29th 1871.
He never sought realism in his works, as he created and ideal world of harmony and symmetry, with small peasants working idillically in nature, cheerful couples and horsemen. For the larger compositions of country life subjects as baptism, folk festivals, alpine hunts he wanted a more gay effect, so he searched for discarded color paper in the villages.
His alpine papercuts often shows this pattern: there is a farm on the bottom and a trail winds up to the alpine hut, usually equipped with utensils for cheese making. He used to cut single pieces and compose it in a collage. The closed garden gate, which can be found in many cuts, could represent a symbol of his loneliness. He was awesome cutting at trees and he created many stylized variant designs. Most of the papercuts were signed and decorated with the Bernese armed bear and shield.
His art remained ignored more than forty years after his death and it came to light when painter Theodore Delachaux became curator at Museum of Ethnography in Neuchatel. He accompanied his brother, a doctor, on his visits and he discovered this amazing papercut framed in the farmhouse kitchens and immediately recognized their unique artistic value.
There was the danger that these works of art could be lost, as the Château-d’Oex region was an important tourist resort. Thanks to the prompt actions of the members of the Musée du Vieux Pays-d’Enhaut, this wonderful heritage was saved and now more than thirty original Hauswirth’s creations are in the Museum’s collection.
Bibliography: Christian Rubi, Scherenschnitte aus hundert Jahern. Johann Jakob Hauswirth, Louis Saugy und Christian Schwizgebel. Ein Beitrag zur schweizerischen Volkskunstforschung, Bern, Stuttgart, 1959, Hans Huber; Charles Apothéloz, Christophe Bernoulli, René Creux, Meisterwerke des Scherenschnitts J.J. Hauswirth, L. Saugy, Zürich, 1978, Buchclub Ex Libris; Charles Apothéloz, ed. by Laura Casalis, transl. from the French by Michael Langley, Paper cuts by Johann-Jakob Hauswirth and Louis-David Saugy, London, 1980, Thames and Hudson; Guy Filippa et al., Blick in eine Idylle Schweizer Volkskunst und naive Malerei aus vier Jahrhunderten, Bern, 1983, Benteli; Alfred Schneider, Vom Baum zum Lebensbaum Bild und Sinnbild im Scherenschnitt (De l’arbre à l’arbre de vie : présence et symbole dans le découpage), Flendruz, 1996 Editions Centre du Découpage Claude Allegri; La nature au bout des ciseaux hommage aux découpeurs du Pays-d’Enhaut, un film de Géraldine Henchoz et Jean-Frédéric Henchoz, 2007; Enigma Helvetia. Arti, riti e miti della Svizzera moderna, catalogo della mostra, Museo cantonale d’arte, Lugano; Museo d’Arte della Città di Lugano, 27.4.–17.8.2008; Felicitas Oehler, Querschnitt Schweizer Scherenschnitte aus fünf Jahrhunderten, Bern, 2013, Haupt.