Early American Profilists

At the sam time that Miers & Field were turning out expensive miniature miracles in The Strand, London, profile artists in America went down a different road. American artists seem to have led a largely nomadic existence, and so almost all of them worked with paper & scissors, or a knife. Many artists used a pantograph (known to them as a "storks bill") attached to a "profeel machin" to reduce a face to the required 2 or 3 inches. After drawing out, they would then hollow-cut the profile from white paper (black paper being difficult to obtain), which could then be framed backed with some suitable black cloth. Many of these artists worked extremely rapidly, and would travel from town to town on horse-back, peddling their wares.

	Peale Profile (22K jpeg)

A hollow-cut profile by Charles Peale, 1809. Hollow-cut means it's cut inside out from white paper, and mounted over something black!

These early profiles are extremely important to American historians of today, since they often provide the only portraits in existence of the early American settlers. Many founders of towns and cities, and even the odd president or two, exist today only as a cheap black shade! It seems many eighteenth century Americans did not have the time or inclination to commission more elaborate works of art.

One of my favorite American artists is Charles Peale (yes, I know, another Charles!). He lived and worked in Philadelphia. As well as being an inventive profilist he was also a stuffer and preserver of dead animals, a silversmith and watchmaker, an art collector, framer , and saddle maker. He was also a notable legislator and lecturer! He opened a museum on a street corner which eventualy grew into the Museum of Philadelphia. The Museum was intended to house his own interests, stuffed animals, pictures, jewellry and the like. And of course, the profile department, which was one of the main attractions. Charles Peale cut many thousands of hollow-cuts with his machine, which in the end must have been operated by hands other than his own. They are always stamped "Museum" or occasionally "Peale".

His profiles are widely collected, and I have even heard of fakes. Somebody even went so far as to reproduce the "Museum" stamp! (Hmmm.... now that I think of it, that mount does look rather new!!)

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©Charles Burns/www.roving-artist.com/The Edo Barn Site/silhouettes@me.com/This page was first created in September 1997 and last updated August 2012