June 1, 2013

The Shadow is Nature's Own Picture

This was the belief of early Quakers who refused to have their images drawn or painted and preferred to be remembered by their deeds alone.  Over time testimonies against portraiture relaxed within the Religious Society of Friends and simple profile depictions of individuals, especially "shadow pictures"--silhouettes cut from black paper--gained in popularity, filling family albums and decorating the walls of mainly urban Quaker homes in England and America.

 
Silhouette depiction of Sylvanus Fox of Wellington, Somerset, England
(1791-1851) by Samuel Metford of Glastonbury.  (c) Religious Society
of Friends in Britain.  Courtesy of the Friend's House Library.  Learn
more about the Library at http://www.quaker.org.uk/library.
 
 
Cutting silhouettes (called "paper art") was a popular hobby among English Quakers by 1800 and was practiced at home on an amateur basis.  One amateur who became a prolific silhouette producer in England was the physician Thomas Pole who learned the craft in Philadelphia before he moved to England to practice medicine.  Samuel Metford of Glastonbury was the first English Quaker to become a professional silhouette artist.  He, too, learned the craft in America while there on business, and traveled throughout England from the 1830s through the 1860s visiting Quaker Meeting houses whose members formed a large number of his clientele.
 
 
Silhouette of Quaker John Fothergill in a wig, a noted Quaker physician and
founder in 1779 of the Ackworth School near Pontefract, West Yorkshire, England. (c) Religious
Society of Friends in Britain.  Courtesy of the Friend's House Library.
 
Silhouettes depicting the Sturge family. (c) Religious Society of Friends in Britain. 
 Courtesy of the Friend's House Library.
 
 
The Quaker fondness of silhouettes was also found in the New World in the late 18th century where their production was viewed as an amateur household past time in keeping with Quaker ideas of thrift and plainness. Joseph Samson ((1757-1826) of Philadelphia became a prominent, amateur silhouette artist employed by many Quakers to produce images of their family members.  Quaker William Henry Brown (1808-1882) of Charleston, South Carolina, became a professional silhouette artist who portrayed many celebrities of the eastern seaboard but whose clientele seems not to have included Friends.  But, the French master silhouette artist, Augustin Edouart, recorded the profiles of American Quakers of the 1840s in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Wilmington and kept duplicates of these images in a Quaker folio.  These images have been reproduced and now rest in private hands and in museums in Britain, Canada, and America. A folio of these images is held at the Friend's Historical Library of Swarthmore College.
 
Silhouette of Susan Talbott Walker (1793-1872) by an unknown American artist.
Collection of Mary Holton Robare.  (You can see a later photograph of Susan and a
linen attributed to her in our post of September 9, 2012.)
 


Silhouettes depicting profile images have remained popular in America.  We remember drawing silhouette profiles as children in grade school classes and seeing framed silhouettes hanging on the walls of our homes and those of friends and relatives as we grew up. Silhouette profiles have often been used as motifs for quilting projects as well.  We featured a quilt from the Third Haven Friends Meeting on May 17, 2012 that included a silhouette block.  More recently, we discovered a quilt made by Victoria Findlay Wolfe and others to raise funds for her daughter's Quaker school.  The quilt, shown below, features the profile images of students at the Friends Seminary in New York.
 
 

Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Bumble Bears Inc. NY, NY, "Friends Seminary Class
of 2018" Quilt, made 2007.
 
 
Professional silhouette artists continue to practice their special skill in countries around the world.  While Lynda and her husband were in Rome in 1996, they saw a flyer for an exhibit of silhouette art at Bibli in the Trastevere and decided to attend it late on a rainy afternoon.  The exhibit was extensive and the opportunity to see a professional "paper artist" cutting silhouettes on-the-spot with small scissors in hand without the use of tracings or other drawings was indeed remarkable.
 
 
Flyer advertising the silhouette exhibit at the Bibli in the Trastevere, Rome.  Collection of
Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
 
Silhouette of Lynda Salter Chenoweth bundled up on a rainy afternoon with
umbrella in hand.  Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth. 
 
Our thanks to the Religious Society of Friends in Britain for permission to use the silhouettes from the Friend's House Library.
 
Sources:
 
Clark, Joanna. "Quaker Silhouettes" in the Friend, The Quaker Magazine, 28/7/2011 at http://www.thefriend.org.article/quaker-silhouettes.
 
Email correspondence with Victoria Findlay Wolfe.
 
Laughon, Helen and Nel.  August Edouart, A Quaker Album, American and English Duplicate Silhouettes 1827-1845.  Richmond, VA: Cheswick Press, 1987.
 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.
 

 

1 comment:

  1. smithj1@unisa.ac.zaJune 28, 2013 at 4:14 AM

    Dear Quaker Quilts

    I've been following your blog for a little while now and I must say: it's excellent and so informative. This piece on silhouettes is a case in point. My family's religious tradition, so to speak, is partly Quaker and, as I get older, I find myself getting more and more interested in the Quakers (and various anabaptist groups).

    Keep up the good work!

    Jane Smith (Pretoria, South Africa)

    ReplyDelete