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Profiles Behind Vintage Silhouette Artists Are Shady

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 But remember, by this time it had been roughly a century since the art of silhouettes had been replaced by photographs.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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