Collection Obsession : The Silhouette

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It’s no secret I’ve a weensy obsession with the cut silhouette- she in all her folkish form. Both Garden & Gun and Country Living recently featured my collection, which I’ve shared snaps of below. I’ve culled through many a dust-laden antique mall on the hunt for a tiny crusty original frame housing a vintage cut black-and-white of just about anyone interesting. From the mountain towns of Tennessee (my fave being those near Blackberry Farm) to the highway shanties of Virginia, there are many a treasure to be found if you keep just a few tips in mind:

1. Original frames are always best. If the silhouette itself is unframed and isn’t over-the-top exquisite, skip it.

2. Beware of George and Martha. Silhouettes as a simple form of family portraiture didn’t truly take off until the late 19th/early 20th century, although many in the 18th century had them made. For some reason, people LOVE to cut the profiles of our first president and his dear wife. Unless you have a penchant for collecting Colonial memorabilia- skip again.

3. A true silhouette is cut out of black paper and lightly affixed to white paper, revealing a delicately cut edge and shadowing of the layers. There are plenty of pen-and-ink silhouettes meant to look like cut ones- these are of little value and kinda defeat the whole purpose.

4. Some of the most fabulous ones have been overpainted with watercolors or oils. I hanker in particular for these, and don’t think they should be discounted in any way for their extra lily-gilding.

5. Expect to spend every bit of $25-75 per piece, with the more prominent ones (often signed) fetching $175-250 easily. A framed, signed silhouette of European provenance and distinct age (perhaps from 1900-1950) is well worth the higher price tag if you just love the subject matter.

6. As you’d guess, my favorite sources besides the old reliable antique mall are Etsy and eBay.

7. As with all curiosities, if you love it- just buy it. Unless you’re curating a collection for the Smithsonian, who cares?

Garden & Gun Belle Decor features Calder Clark Garden & Gun Belle Decor features Calder's silhouettes


  1. Audrey Eshman

    This is gorgeous!! What a fantastic idea to have commissions done every year. Who do you use for your commissions?