This article was originally published in 2006
“Chanukiah” hand cut paper
THE MAGNIFICENT ARTISTRY OF
MELANIE & HARRY DANKOWICZ
Daughter Of The Arts brings you a special Chanukah treat. Melanie and Harry Dankowicz create elegant paper-cut sculptured dreidels and mezuzot, ketubot, invitations and paper-cut wall pieces for Chanukah, and other special occasions as well as commissioned pieces. They have also fused their love for Israeli folk dancing together with their passion for their art.
Daughter Of The Arts caught up with Melanie and Harry in the midst of their busy schedules to bring you this delightful exclusive interview and gorgeous samples of their artwork.
DOTA: Where are you from originally?
Melanie: I was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and grew up in Potomac, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
Harry: I was born in Stockholm, Sweden.
DOTA: When did you first get involved in creating your artwork?
Melanie: I have always enjoyed creation and craft. A multitude of materials was available to me while growing up.
Harry: I am trained as a scientist and mathematician, and have performed piano and vocal music since childhood. These are all creative enterprises that involve the recognition of patterns of symmetry and structure that are not necessarily geometrically straightforward or single-layered. I would happily call this creative artwork, even when it applies to real physical phenomena.
DOTA: How did you meet?
Harry: We met as students at CornellUniversity in the early ‘90s in the context of a weekly Israeli folk dance session led by Melanie.
Melanie: Harry had no prior experience with Israeli folk dancing, but he had a wonderful time.
DOTA: How did you begin creating paper-cuts?
Harry: When planning our wedding in ’94, we were inspired by Anita Diamant’s New Jewish Wedding and its descriptions of many individualized creations of ketubah artworks and texts. We thought this a wonderful way of beginning our married lives together. The ketubah we created represented our past histories and our future goals and aspirations. Thus began our artistic collaboration. Melanie contributed the design and the cutting and painting of the ketubah, while I did the calligraphy.
“Rose Ketuba” hand cut and illuminated paper
(not Dankowicz wedding ‘94)
Melanie: As I explored other paper-cut projects in the following year, it turned out that the cutting process was difficult on my wrists. It was then that we discovered that Harry was, in fact, a particularly skilled paper cutter with remarkable patience. In the many years and innumerable projects since, I continue to create the design and Harry does the cutting.
“White Wedding Dreidel” laser cut sculpture
DOTA: Why are your drawn to this process?
Harry: My contributions to the artistic process lie primarily in the craftsmanship of cutting and calligraphy. I think my appreciation of the creative process and the necessary craftsmanship reflects my mathematical nature and my natural fondness of geometry. Something reverberates in me as the structure that Melanie has designed appears in front of my eyes during the cutting. I don’t have Melanie’s ability to translate such geometry and structure to an actual design but I take great pride in being able to realize her designs.
Harry working during the creation of ketubot
Melanie: I love the challenge of transferring a design from my mind to paper. At times the drawing forms precisely as I had planned, and at other times the design seems to grow and enhance itself as it hits the paper. I work and rework a piece until I am pleased, and in the case of a commission until I am sure that I will have delighted my clients. That is when the real fun begins. Harry sits down and begins to cut, and my creation truly comes to life. It is always a thrill to see. Something magical takes place with each space in the paper that Harry creates. A sensation of depth and contrast appears.
Harry and I are particularly drawn to the sensations of light that appear in paper-cuts. When Harry finishes up a new piece we love to hold it up to the light and create paper-cut shadows on the wall, or hold it by the window and watch the sun shine through the piece.
Melanie at a wedding. The ketuba is about to be signed
DOTA: What is special about your paper-cut dreidel creations?
Melanie: The three-dimensional structure of the dreidel lends itself to a level of movement that is hard to come by in framed paper-cuts. The dreidel can be viewed from all sides; it is alive within the dome; it creates shadows and depth. The dancers are a wonderful theme for the dreidel because, as the dancers celebrate our Chanukah delight, they “move” around the artwork just as the holidays cycle around our Jewish year.
We sell most of our dreidels wholesale to fine arts galleries. Yet a special part of my work comes from being in direct contact with our customers. Whether I am shipping a dreidel to a client, or working on a personalized commissioned piece, I enjoy learning about our customers and the lives of the people for whom they are purchasing our artwork. And, of course, it is rewarding to hear from paper-cut owners as they react to a new piece of our artwork decorating their home.
“Dancing Children Dreidel” laser-cut sculpture
DOTA: Describe your experiences with Israeli folk dance.
Melanie: I took my first Israeli dance class in the first or second grade and have been dancing ever since. In high school and college I enjoyed performing. At Cornell I co-led a weekly group for several years. Since then it’s been a challenge to keep up, since we have been living in places where there are very small dance communities. I continue to dance when I can, and learn new dances when I have the opportunity. Israeli dance remains a vital part of who I am, and it’s only natural for the dance to emerge in my work.
Harry: I used to enjoy ballroom dancing, but haven’t had much chance in the past many years. When given the opportunity, I enjoy dancing the Israeli folk dances that I learned at Cornell and in later years at dance sessions in Maryland. I think there is a relationship between attention to the patterns and rhythms of choreographed dancing and the emphasis on balance, depth, and movement in our designs.
DOTA: Do you have a favorite work?
Harry: I am quite fond of the various dreidel designs, especially the airbrushed dancing children dreidel and the painted wedding dreidel. We have also made several pieces that have strong geometric foundations that I find very soothing.
Melanie: I enjoy the elegance of our wedding dreidel. Another of my favorite pieces is the commissioned Eisa Einai, the creation of which involved a lot of fun layering of painted Thai fibrous papers. And of course, I am particularly fond of several of the ketubot that we have made over the years.
“Eisa Einai” hand cut layered paper
“Dodi Li” hand cut paper
|“Mizrach” hand cut paper||
“Peace” hand cut paper
An extensive sampling of Melanie and Harry’s creations can be seen at their website: http://www.dankowicz.com/