Step inside the home of Charleston, South Carolina, event designer Calder Clark, and her collection is hard to miss: more than a hundred silhouettes of all shapes and sizes, arranged floor to ceiling. “I started collecting when I was sixteen,” Clark says. “My mother gifted a silhouette of my father when he was a child, and I loved that it was a glimpse into his past. I started to come across silhouettes at estate sales and antique malls from Natchez, Mississippi, to Leesburg, Virginia, and found myself picking up one or two on every foray.”
As Clark moved from house to house over the years, her collection moved, too. Now, her current home has a truly perfect spot to arrange her growing grouping in one place: a two-story staircase. “I started at the top and worked down,” Clark says, “not really caring that there were gaps. I had grand plans to follow a tutorial, but I just moved a few around and let them fall where they may. Short of pairing duos near each other (like our children together), I let it play out organically.”
In addition to pieces by South Carolina silhouette artist Carew Rice, deemed “America’s greatest silhouettist” by poet Carl Sandberg, Clark is also fond of European Scherenschnitte examples. “Some of the coolest ones have been painstakingly over-painted with a bit of color and are often found in period mercury glass frames, which makes them all the more special and valuable to boot,” she says. But the silhouettes she commissions each year of her children are her favorites. “It’s phenomenal to watch their little visages change and grow.”
One day, Clark might run out of room for all her cut-paper beauties, but she’s not likely to give up the thrill of the hunt (or the custom commission). “I think I’d have to buy a bigger house,” she laughs.
Editor’s note: In addition to hunting for vintage silhouettes to display, there are many resources for both fine-art and custom silhouettes, including traditional examples by South Carolina’s Clay Rice and Karl Johnson and modern takes on the idea, from prints by artist Carter Kustera to brightly colored works by Love and Victory, to metallic foil pieces from Minted.