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Souvenir Silhouette

Via Country Living Magazine

It seems that silhouette art is having a bit of a comeback. Outlines of people, objects, and animals are popping up in wall art, bookmarks, stationary, and even surfboards. Personally, I rather like the trend. The images hearken back to times past and they are a blend of classy and whimsy in one. However, it wasn’t until today that I discovered that silhouette art has a museum connection.

Today, I found myself at the small but well-cared for Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, PA. Hidden amongst the period furnishings, Underground Railroad artifacts, and agricultural images was a random fact straight out of museum history.


Charles Wilson Peale

At the beginning of the 1800s, Charles Wilson Peale opened the Philadelphia Museum, which was one of America’s first institutions of its kind. Later renamed the Peale Museum, his collection of natural history specimens was internationally renowned – the mammoth bones in particular drew significant attention. However, in spite of its popularity, America’s first museum faced the same issues that modern day organizations grapple with: lack of funding.

In order to make up for the lack of government funding, Peale was forced to resort to some creative ways of bringing in revenue (sound familiar anyone?). One such measure was silhouette art. People would come to the Peale Museum to have their silhouette taken, paid a small fee, and journeyed home with a treasured souvenir. Essentially, silhouette art was the predecessor to the world of museum souvenirs. That Mold-o-Rama gorilla you have from that trip to the zoo, a pressed penny that you had to pay a quarter for, your witty t-shirt from the science center you once visited, and even the David magnet on your fridge from your time in Florence – all of these wacky and wonderful momentos from your museum experiences can be traced back to outlines of 19th century ladies.

Museum Souvenir

Now, I am not saying modern day museum souvenirs are any less important to their owners than Peale’s offerings, but silhouette art seems much more personal than a History of Art coffee mug. Which leaves me wondering: are there currently any museums that offer one of a kind souvenirs like the silhouette art of old?

One Response to “Souvenir Silhouette”

  1. ulimited hosting on August 5th, 2013

    Hey! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!|

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