You might say that Dena Levie is a cut above the rest: The Teaneck-based artist has created paper cuts for Michael Douglas, Bette Midler, Steven Spielberg, and Matisyahu.

Now, Levie has created a design depicting the Friday night Kiddush (blessing over the wine) that will be displayed at the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

The 40something mother of four said she was thrilled when museum officials, who found her on the web, commissioned the design last February.

It took two months to finalize the sketch and another three to complete the cutting, drawing, and painting of a round paper cutting with the text of the kiddish on the inside. “I drew five circles or petals, coming off the middle to depict the five themes in the kiddush,” she said.

“Where it says (in the Kiddush text) that Hashem commanded us to do mitzvot, I drew many mitzvot – tefillin, megillah, mezuzah, lulav and etrog, shofar,” Levie said. “And where it says we should remember creation, I put the seven days of creation.”

While many other paper cutters work from pre-made patterns, Levie, who works out of a studio in her home, creates her own original designs by hand.

The ancient art form – which can be traced back to the first century in China – requires the artist to cut intricate patterns with an X-acto knife. A simple design can take a few hours; a highly detailed work can take several weeks. And Levie has to really be careful: one slip of the hand and her entire piece is ruined. The result of her painstaking labors is well worth the trouble – a fragile, lacy design that is breathtaking to behold.

Levie taught herself the art nearly 18 years ago, after her oldest daughter was born. Her husband, Mark, bought her a book about papercutting with the assumption that it would be a fun project for his artistically gifted wife during her maternity leave.

But once Levie started papercutting she never stopped. She made paper cuts for relatives, friends and neighbors. Soon her phone was ringing with requests and she subsequently left her day job as a computer programmer to devote herself full time to the craft. She’s since made more 1,000 pieces, including wedding and bar mitzvah invitations and new year’s cards, family trees, ketubot, and CD covers (including for Matisyahu).

The latest piece has a unique resonance in her life as a Jew. “I loved making this piece because I used a piece of text from the siddur and made it come to life,” she said. “I now feel a connection every Friday night when I listen to the Kiddush.”


Originally published for the Jewish Standard, September 28th, 2012: