April 12, 2013
Colonial Quakers and Silhouettes
A silhouette, known then as "profiles" or "shades", were line portraits with no internal detail. Many of these were cut from paper and glued to contrasting paper but some were painted. They typically were 3 to 5 inches in length. Varying methods were used to produce the profile, some used light to trace the shadow of a portrait sitter, others were drawn quickly by artists.
One popular method of creating silhouettes involved folding the paper into four so that the cutter could make four copies of the same silhouette at once. These could then be given away or exchanged. Silhouettes could also be easily traced and copied if more were needed.
Along with country folk and the middling class, silhouettes appealed to Quakers, even wealthy ones, due to the simplistic nature of the art and the cost. Quakers felt that silhouettes did not emphasize class or vanity as many paintings did.
Silhouettes were also of interest at the time as theories of physiognomy at the time claimed that a person's character could be read through the face. Silhouettes were popular until the invention and spread of the Daguerreotype in the 1840s.
In modern times, silhouettes are made easily using photography and computers. There are many tutorials showing how to do it. But if you wanted to do it the old fashioned way, profiles tend to be relatively easy for people to draw.
Clark, Joanna. "Quaker Silhouettes." The Friend: The Quaker Magazine. http://www.thefriend.org/article/quaker-silhouettes (accessed April 11, 2013).
Verplank, Anne. "The Silhouette and Quaker Identity in Early National Philadelphia." Winterthur Portfolio 43, No. 1 (2009): 41-79.