Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Silhouette Studio

The Silhouette Studio on East Main Street is a somewhat hidden gem at Disneyland. Here, guests can have their silhouettes done the old-fashioned way: hand-cut by the talented artists that work inside. Here's a vintage silhouette:

I love the creative signature of the artist, Alex, found in the lower-right-hand corner:

This article was featured in the Disneyland Line Newsletter, April 27, 1978:

Of Shadows and Smiles…The Main Street Silhouette Studio

When Walt Disney first conceived his Main Street entryway to the Magic Kingdom, he desired that each details, each characteristic trait of that turn-of-the-century period be recreated in the most authentic manner. One of the most prominent examples of this duplication of 19th century life lies within the door of the Main Street Silhouette Studio. Today an almost obsolete art form, the craft of cutting profile likenesses found its roots in the mid-18th century. Étienne Silhouette, a French finance minister, originated the commercial production of the craft. During that time, the privilege of personal portraiture was reserved for the very elite, and Étienne began his campaign to generate the production of the "poor man's" portrait…the Silhouette. Eventually this innovative art form caught on even in the wealthy circles and became one of the most popular portrait devices in Europe.

The invention of the camera cast a lasting shadow over the art of silhouette creation, and today only about 25 full-time silhouette artists exist in this country. Harry Brice is Disneyland's artist in residence, and tells an interesting tale of how he came to be an artist of such rare talents. "I was being interviewd by Disneyland's former artist lessee, and he asked me if I'd had any experience with silhouette portraits. I didn't even know what a silhouette portrait WAS, but told my interviewer that I was experienced int he field. Within a week, I had taught myself the craft, and was working in the Sihouette Shop."

Since that time over 10 years ago, Harry has become an accomplished duplicator of Disneyland guest profiles. 60,000 silhouettes were created by Harry last year alone, and it's been estimated that he's the "fastest snip in the West"…and the world at 30 seconds per portrait. Harry has scissored some unusual profiles, as horses, cats and dogs are now a part of his repertoire. One of his most memorable portraits is a silhouette of a departed husband, described th Harry by the man's widow.

Although Harry is the shop's full-time artist, Laurie Myers and Bonnie Elliot share the responsibility on party nights and during the summer and peak seasons. A Silhouette Cart in New Orleans Square relieves some of the pressure during the busier periods.

More than artistic talent, however, is required to be a creative silhouette cutter. Showmanship, patience and an infinite sense of humor are prerequisites to the success of the craft. And in every aspect of this art, Harry and his staff of artists are a difficult group to over-shadow.

Apparently, Bonnie is still working in the shop, racking up 38 years of employment at the park. Next time you are on Main Street, be sure to take advantage of this almost lost art of portrait making. You'll be glad you did!

See more vintage and current Silhouette Studio photos on my Silhouette Studio web page.


Jason Schultz said...

That vintage silhouette must have been done by Alex DeGonslar, who operated the original shop with Nemo Markay!

Daveland said...

Thanks for the info, as always. That definitely makes it a keeper!