Pam Crooks Remembers Silhouettes!

silhouette10If you went to school in the 60’s like I did, they probably made a black and white silhouette of you.   Though I can’t remember how old I was (six or seven, maybe) I remember the experience – sitting on a chair with a light shining on one side of me  and staring straight ahead without moving.  I’m a little vague  as to how my silhouette was transferred to the white paper, and who would’ve traced it onto black paper, but I remember the finished project.  And that it hung on our wall for a long time.

What I’d give to have that portrait back again.

In this age of digital photography, silhouettes have faded into the realms of nostalgia.  But in the late 1700’s, they were the cheapest, quickest and most effective way to preserve one’s likeness.  Originally called ‘shades’ or ‘hollow-cuts’, artists charged mere pennies to produce a black paper cut-out or an ink painting.  Others produced more ornate creations, transferring the silhouettes into beautiful black, bronzed or coloured masterpieces on ivory, plaster, card or glass.  And still others simply did them at parties, for a fun souvenir for their guests.

silhouette9The term ‘silhouette’ came by way of the French finance minister Etienne de Silhouette in 1759.   Notoriously miserly,  he enjoyed paper-cutting as a hobby, and cheap articles of portraiture became known as  ‘a la Silhouette.’   Talented artists could wield their scissors freehand without sketches and/or purely from memory.   The more ambitious produced life-size cuts.  Noted American artist William Henry Brown took it a step further–he cut silhouettes of the entire St. Louis Fire Department–all 65 members!–finishing up with a 20 foot long group portrait.  How cool would that be?!

By the mid-1800’s, however, silhouettes fell victim to the daguerreotype, and, as they, say, the rest is history.  Today, silhouettes are revived by collectors and on jewelry, but also on more modern wares such as wallpaper, drapery and upholstery fabrics, dishes and stationery.

Here are some silhouettes from popular historical figures.  Can you guess who they were?  (No fair Googling!)   I’ll post the answers later this afternoon.

Do you know who had America’s most famous silhouette?  (No fair Googling!)

Did you have a silhouette made of yourself when you were young?  Do you still have it? 



























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Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns, but her newest releases are contemporary sweet romances featuring the Blackstone Ranch series published by Tule Publishing. Stay up on the latest at

32 thoughts on “Pam Crooks Remembers Silhouettes!”

  1. I remember these! My mom, at one time, had one of each of us kids on the wall. I’m not sure what happened to them, though.

    My guesses on the silhouettes, without the aid of Google, are:

    1. Benjamin Franklin
    2. I don’t know but I’m going to guess she was horrified at the misfortune of her chest ruffle, LOL.
    3. Abraham Lincoln
    4. Lincoln and family
    5. I’m guessing Mary Todd Lincoln, though not sure
    6. George and Martha Washington
    7. Queen Elizabeth (I love how they added the jewels, too funny)

  2. Hello Pam, Yes, I had a silhouette of my self when I was about 5 years old. I’m not quit sure what happened to it though. I wish I still had it. Have a great day. My guesses are:
    1. Benjamin Franklin
    2. ?
    3. Abe Lincoln
    4. Lincoln and family
    5. ?
    6. George and Martha Washington
    7. Queen Elizabeth
    8. ?

  3. Aren’t most coins silhouettes? Abe Lincoln on the penny, George Washington on the nickel? Those were the silhouettes that popped into my head.

    I do remember this silhouette thing being done of me. No, I didn’t keep it. But I love those silhouette pictures you put up and who ever knew there was an actual GUY named silhouette? And COULD the word silhouette be any harder to spell!!!???

    Nice little piece of cool history, Pam.

  4. What fun, Pam. I remember those paper silhouettes at school. Mine’s long gone, and I don’t remember my children having them done.
    Looking at Roberta’s list of guesses, I don’t know 2 and 5 but I’m guessing number 8 is the young Mozart.

  5. After writing this blog, Mary, I’m a pro at spelling ‘silhouette’. But I had a few stumbles at first.

    As far as the coins, they have Washington’s and Lincoln’s profiles–not quite a silhouette. The profiles are quite detailed.

  6. Hi, Elizabeth–we must all be the same age this morning. We’ve all had our silhouettes done when we were in school!

    Good guess on #8, my dear sister Filly. But it’s wrong. Hee!

  7. B Franklin
    Louisa May Alcott
    Lincoln family
    G Washington and wife
    Queen Elizabeth
    ? – I should know this one – she’s a young black girl and was on a stamp

    My oldest girls had silhouettes made in about 3rd grade. I had those on my wall forever – in oval frames. I gave them to my daughters a few years ago. I made one of my oldest granddaughter. You can do it with an overhead projector.

    I have two plates hanging on my bedroom wall – black glass with white silhouttes painted on. It’s Westmoreland glass and signed by the artist. I also have two small round-framed silhouettes of horses and carriages on a mantle shelf over my bureau.

  8. You know, I have work to do. LOL WHy is this stuff nagging me??

    I’m changing #2 from LMA to Jane Austin. I know I’ve seen it and it’s a famous author, so I’m going with Jane.

    #8 will bug me all day.

  9. Great post, Pam…I’m in a dash. Foot surgery today (a bone spur) and I’m keeping my mind off by visiting the Junction before we leave. #8 Napolean LOL?

    My kindergarten teacher made silhouettes of us but they were giant. I found it in my mom’s old house


  10. Cheryl, good guesses–too fun, but my lips are sealed. Stay tuned this afternoon! 🙂

    Your silhouettes sound lovely! I am so not surprised that you have some.

    If ever I get a burst of energy, I’m going to make them for my grandchildren, since it seems the school have let silhouettes fall by the wayside. What a shame! They’re so easy to do.

  11. Oh, Tanya–stick around the Junction as long as you need to before your procedure. Ugh–I hope all goes well for you. Sending fast recovery thoughts your way. Hugs!

    Thank you for guessing–come back this afternoon and let us know how you’re doing!

  12. 1. Ben Franklin
    3. Abe Lincoln
    4. Lincoln Family
    5. Guessing Mary Lincoln, especially since the
    previous two are also Lincolns, LOL
    6. George and Martha Washington
    7. Queen Elizabeth II
    8. I agree, Cheryl, this could be Harriet Tubman,
    she’s the only young black female I could r

    Pam, It has been so long (55 years since I graduated from high school!) that I can’t recall
    if I ever had a silhouette done. I know some of
    the nieces/nephews did.

    Tanya, good luck with your procedure – I just had
    cataract surgery on Friday!

    Pat Cochran

  13. Oh wow–talk about a flash from the past. I remember sitting to have silhouettes drawn a couple times during my early childhood. I wonder if my mom still has them 🙂

    Great post, Pam!

    Surgery (((HUGS))) to Tanya and wishes for a fast recovery!

  14. I know who number 2 is, but I sort of cheated so I withheld the information. 🙂

    Except can you really call it cheating if you worked this hard on it??? I’d instead call it RESEARCH.

  15. Pat,

    I would *never* put you as old as you say you are. You sound so young and savvy. LOL.

    Thank you for your guesses, dear. Not going to tell which ones are wrong, or which ones are right. Not going to tell . . .

  16. What a blast from the past! I never had one done when I was a kid, but always wished I had. I never knew there was an actual guy named Silhouette. Your samples are so well done. Some of them are dead giveaways, which is pretty incredible considering it’s just a shadow. Didn’t Alfred Hitchcock have one of himself at the beginning of all his TV shows, too?

    What a fun blog!

  17. Oh, I remember these! I think my sister and I still have ones from our childhood. I don’t remember what age we did them in school, but I know they are up in the attic with all our school things. I haven’t thought about them in years.
    I’m a terrible guesser and I only got two, I think

    #1 Ben Franklin
    #3 Abe Lincoln

    That’s all folks!!
    Great nostalgic post Pam!

  18. Hi, Kate!

    You never had one done? You went to school in the States, didn’t you? And we’re close to the same age.

    I think you’re right about Alfred Hitchcock. I’d forgotten that. But I had a heck of a time finding silhouettes of famous people from the 1900’s. I’m sure they much preferred a photograph, and I can’t blame them.

  19. Thanks for stopping by, Charlene. And I’m so glad you still have your silhouette. Really, they are a piece of your childhood–I hope your children and grandchildren will treasure them as such.

    Check back to see who the silhouettes belong to!

  20. Pam, this is such a cool subject. I’m pretty sure they used to do silhouettes at the Tri-State Fair when I was a kid. Yep, I’m no kid any longer, but remember them. I have a pair of pictures hanging in my bedroom that belonged to my grandmother. They are black painted on glass. One depicts a southern belle and gentleman sitting at a table and the other strolling along. Maybe Rhett and Scarlet, huh? He has a fancy cane. They are in great detail, and frankly, other than belonging to Granny, I never gave them much thought until your post. They are very delicate, with a ton of detail. What a great post…precious memories I dug back into today. Thank you. Phyliss

  21. Hey, Phyliss! It’s great to see you here.

    Oooh, wouldn’t it be fun to find out who the pictures were of? The fact that they were so detailed could well hint that they were someone famous. Or of great value.

    The Tri-State Fair was one of the first major fairs in Texas, wasn’t it? I remember learning about it in my research for KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY.

    Thanks for sharing, Phyliss!

  22. This is all of them that I know.
    1. Benjamin Franklin
    2. not sure
    3. Abe Lincoln
    4. Lincoln and family
    5. not sure
    6. George and Martha Washington
    7. Queen Elizabeth
    8. not sure

    I don’t ever remember us making silhouettes in school.

  23. Pam, I guess it’s research time on my pictures! Yes, Amarillo’s Tri-State Fair will celebrate it’s 85th year this September. We used to get out of school on the Monday that began the fair and there was a big parade. It would begin on Monday and finish up, to move on down the line, on Saturday night. Not much different than it was with the old ranch competitions. That was on the “goldie oldie” days. Hugs, Phyliss

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