Theorem Stencils Jean Hansen Publications
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Jean Hansen Publications

The Art of Theorem Painting

From Touch of Velvet Volume I, published 1983

Theorem Painting is an early American Decorative Technique that dates back to the first half of the 19th century. The word Theorem suggests, according to Webster's New World Dictionary, "an expression of relations in an equation or formula." As such, the cohesive composition is acheived through a series of stencils cut in such a manner that no two areas immediately next to each other can be placed on the same stencil . Thus, any theorem will require the sequence of two or more stencils or overlays.

This technique was popular among women of all ages during the early 1800's. It was an art form practiced by women of means. It was part of the curriculum in the girls finishing schools during the Victorian Era. That tradition still holds today…...women of all ages gathering together to produce these beautiful works of art, much like women gathering for quilting. Its primary attraction, then, as today, is the fact that it enabled the average non-professional artist to create acceptable art-forms for their own use.

Although Theorem Painting has had a long history on both sides of the Atlantic, it has remained somewhat obscure and antiquated. Except for sporadic revivals, Theorem Painting has never reached its fullest potential. This is largely due due to the scarcity of published pattern material. Thus, this technique has only flourished locally, mostly in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York , Pennsylvania where the techniques have passed from generation to generation and from teacher to student. Most of the design material leaned toward the primitive side, many copying the old patterns. As a result Theorem Painting has generally been classified as a colonial period craft or art-form and was usually done on cotton velveteen or watercolor paper.

It has been my goal ever since my first book, Touch of Velvet I to rectify this situation by offering a more contempory, realistic and diverse approach with updated supplies and techniques.

I feel that Theorem Painting can be moved out of the realm of the colonial period and take its rightful place in the 20th Century Decorative Arts. In this respect Theorem Painting can be viewed as unique, yet versatile art-form. It gives the present day artist the opportunity to CREATE through the use of stencil overlays, a work of art that is acceptable by todays standards, yet also preserving the early principles of Theorem Painting, an almost forgotten technique.

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