Profiles Behind Vintage Silhouette Artists Are Shady

I have become completely obsessed. Again. This time, it’s about vintage silhouettes.

vintage silhouette portaits by paul 1934 lady wearing hat

Of course, in general the whole idea of “vintage silhouettes” (from a German village or not) may seem quaint in the 1930s. But remember, by this time it had been roughly a century since the art of silhouettes had been replaced by photographs. Silhouettes were quaint now. And it just goes to show you how we humans have long had a strong nostalgic streak. But there’s more to study here.

While I love the vintage fashionista who was compelled to have not one, but two, portraits of herself done at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair (and I am quite enamored with her hat — which is either amply feathered or sports an actual bird!), it is the silhouette artist himself which mainly concerns me.

The (roughly) 6 by 4 inch cards of this pair of vintage silhouettes contain the following printed information:

Silhouette Portrait
Cut At The
Black Forest
World’s Fair, 1934
By “Paul”

Why would Paul’s name be in quotes?

Despite the fact that all the information is printed on stock cards, perhaps “Paul” was not one person, but rather there were many paper cutters playing the role of Paul. According to excerpts from letters written by Trudel, a young German Jewish woman who arrived in Chicago in May, 1934, various people worked cutting the silhouettes at the fair. (And *gasp* not all the people in the Black Forest attraction at the World’s Fair were German!)

A couple and a friend from Vienna are cutting silhouettes of people.

…My travel companions from Vienna I see every time I go there. The wife and friend work now in an exhibit called “Black Forest”.

It certainly makes sense, from a manpower point of view, to have multiple artists crafting silhouette souvenirs for fair visitors. However, I still don’t know what significance, if any, the name Paul has to do with cutting silhouettes. Do you?

There is evidence that “Paul” was around creating silhouette souvenirs for folks at other World’s Fairs. At least through the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York. However, by that time not only were the boards the paper silhouettes were adhered to blacked-out to give the illusion of a a frame with an oval opening, but Paul’s name was given a scripted look (which looks more like a signature — but isn’t, it’s still printed on the paper) and the quotes around his name had disappeared. Also, I’ve also seen silhouettes from World Fairs which had no names or artist identification at all. So it’s more than a bit confusing — to the point where one doesn’t know if “Paul” and Paul are even referencing the same artist (or conceptual artist, as the case may be).

If anyone knows more about Paul, “Paul”, or these silhouettes, please do share. I cannot save (hoard) all these things, but I really, really, really do want to know the story behind old items like this!

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Deanna is the founder of Inherited Values, among other sites. She is also an antique dealer.

5 thoughts on “Profiles Behind Vintage Silhouette Artists Are Shady”

  1. The silhouettes of your lady with feathers are in fact duplicates of one portrait. The artist cut them by folding the paper in half, so cutting two copies at once. He then opened it up and place each copy on a different card. All his customers would have received tow copies this way, the idea was that they could each be sent to different people.

    I think Paul was once artist, not many. I have seen several silhouettes signed by “Paul” , but have no reason to suspect more than one artist was involved. I have no idea why he sometimes used quotation marks – perhaps he was using a pseudonym? Maybe trying to hide his identity, by using a “nom de scisseaux,” in the same way that an author uses a “nom de plume” when writing in a different style to better-known works. Which begs the question – who was Paul?

  2. Thanks for adding your knowledge, Charles — and I love the idea of a “nom de scisseaux” so much! Like you, I still wonder who Paul was…

  3. I have done silhouettes as Cindi Harwood and now Cindi Harwood Rose, or Cindi for 40 years. My paper is still from 40 years ago (it is vintage). I do my silhouettes world-wide, but especially in New York, Colorado, Texas, Virginia, Illinois, California, New Mexico, Arionia, and in my early days in England, for Disneyland, and DisneyWorld, Six Flagg’s and Astroworld. We did two silhouettes for the idea of the right and left view. We would either sell one, and hope they bought the next one (for less money) or sold two for one price. Paul’s work is not the most detailed I have seen, but has a smooth look. He used authentic silhouette paper, as many artists use less expensive construction paper, with a white sheet on top of the black sheet. Real silhouette paper is black on one side and white on the other (so the artist can see what he or she does. At parks or fairs, they are often less detailed like this one, with no interior cuts. Some artists can’t do the interior cuts (see to see the details. When I worked for all the amusement parks we had to use our first name only and we were not allowed to sign our works. It would take up time and the owners of the art concessions cared how many we did. I had heard about Paul as working the world fair. Many people have the silhouettes from the fair and the amusement parks. Silhouette cutting freehand is harder than drawing and takes more skill. Paul must have had nice features as many of the few silhouette artists (around 48-68 in the world today, and only around 13 when I started) will do their own face in their artwork. My work is always refined and slim, but I have noticed some of the silhouette artists give all a large bustline, or rounded nose, or small bottom lip. I try to make my work accurate, fun, whimsical, with personality, and flattering. We were told at Disney to make the noses smaller, the head larger, and to reduce double chins. I am sure that Paul was told that too. I now do the work realistic, and with style– but always make sure to ask afterwards if the subject would like me to shave a bit off from under the chin or the nose, after I show them what “I saw”. Normally, they are pleased with the realistic, yet unique works and take the view that I hand-cut from sight.

  4. It is obvious, that this silhouette was done by steady hands. It is in human proportions, with very good details. Paul would be one person, as there are so few real silhouette artists ever in the world. It was not drawn first and then cut, as the cuts are on-purpose, so it is authentic work. There are no two silhouette artists ever in the world that work the same. Often our names are pre-printed to save time, if we are working a corporate event. I agree with Charles Burns. I actually heard of a “Paul” silhouette artist. I have 40 years experience in cutting silhouettes. I would hold on to this silhouette it is done very well.

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