Arts & Culture

A Look at Silhouettes, Then and Now

In 1802 in Philadelphia, a freedman named Moses Williams went to work for the artist Charles Willson Peale, who taught him how to use a silhouette-making machine called a physiognotrace. Working at Peale’s Museum, Williams became a sought-after silhouette artist known for his incredible precision in portraiture. But Williams never got any credit, his pieces were stamped “Museum” instead of with his name—and the master of light and dark remained in the shadows, until today. In the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now (through March 17), Williams’s work is on display, properly credited to him, along with the creations of modern silhouette greats Kara Walker (don’t miss her life-size and moving depictions of antebellum plantation life) and Kumi Yamashita, a Japanese American artist who uses light beams to sculpt shadows against white walls. See a preview of the exhibit here.

Start Slideshow View as list