G. Willikers! Blog

Apr 26, 2009

Clay Rice visits G.Willikers!

Clay Rice at workClay Rice at work

 CLICK to see pictures from this event.

Nationally known silhouette artist Clay Rice brought his rare skill of cutting silhouette portraits to Portsmouth, NH Wednesday, April 22 when he created over 70 of these heirloom memories for local residents.  His scheduled day was packed full with fans of this simple art form.  

The term derives from Etienne de Silhouette (1706-67), French Minister of Finance under Louis XV, who cut shadow portraits as a hobby.  Until the end of the 18th century silhouette portraits were more commonly known in Britain as ‘profiles’ or ‘shades’.  This form of portraiture, being relatively quick and inexpensive to produce, was very popular from the 1750s to the 1850s, when it was overtaken by photography.

Mr. Rice proved to be as interesting as his art.  “I started cutting silhouettes at about age 6 when my grandfather showed me how to cut out simple shapes such as barnyard animals and trees.”  In fact Carew Rice, Clay’s grandfather was hailed by Poet Carl Sandburg as “America’s Greatest Silhouettist”.  His hauntingly beautiful landscapes of Southern life and lands are sought after by collectors worldwide.  Rice’s first paying job as a silhouettist didn’t come until he was 20.  “I was living in Nashville, TN, learning to write songs and commuting home to the South Carolina lowcountry in the summertime to make extra money cutting silhouettes at the Pawleys Island Hammock shops for vacationers from the upstate."Clay Rice finishes a portraitClay Rice finishes a portrait

Relaxed in a low slung chair that could easily be found on a South Carolina plantation porch,  Mr. Rice talks about his life as an artist.  His schedule takes him all over the country, but rather than seeming road weary Clay Rice speaks with the comfortable air of a man who loves what he does.  “The best thing about what I do is the fact that I get to meet so many people.  They are excited to watch me create a lasting family heirloom, a piece of art that can be passed down for generations.” 


When asked if silhouette cutting is a dying art Rice responds enthusiastically.  “Silhouette cutting is alive and well!  I always get a kick out of it when people say it’s a lost or dying art.  There are only a handful of professional artists doing silhouettes, but there has always been just a handful.  You see the art passed down in families and some who take it up at the beginning as “just for fun”.  However, just flip through the pages of any major home fashions magazine such as Country Living and you’ll see silhouettes constantly featured.”  With an additional nod to his specialty of child profiles Rice adds “I’ve been a professional silhouette artist for over 30 years and the demand is always there.  So I wouldn’t say by any means that it’s a lost art, unless they quit making children.”

Scrapes or small works of art?Scrapes or small works of art?

G.Willikers! will definitely have Mr. Rice back at the store at a future date.  Possibly in October in advance of the holidays.  

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