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Ruth Bascoes Profiles Ruth Henshaw Bascom's first mention of cutting profiles, in 1801, corresponds to the time that hollow-cut profile making was becoming a popular art form, as well as a national parlor game, in America. It was quick, easy, and inexpensive. Furthermore, profile-cutting could be tied to other enthusiasms of the period. It resembled the classical silhouetted figures on the ancient Greek pottery that was being excavated in Italy; and it could be related to the cult of physiognomy, first popularized in Switzerland by Johann Caspar Lavater, which claimed a person's character and soul could be revealed through their features. Ruth does not seem to have taken this art very seriously at first. Of the seven earliest Diary references, which occurred sporadically between 1801 and 1808, three do not identify the sitter. Other artists, however, were already actively pursuing profilemaking, and Ruth Bascom undoubtedly encountered their work in her travels. In Boston, art galleries like the New England Museum and The Gallery ofFine Arts were run by Ruth's good friend, the artist Ethan Allen Greenwood. She noted visiting them on several occasions. There Ruth might have seen profiles by the prolific Charles Balthazar J.F. de Saint-Memin (active in the U.S. from 1797 to 1810 and 1812 to 1814) and the itinerant Sharpies family (active in the U.S. from 1793 to 1801, and after 1809). For a period of ten years, there was no mention of profile making in her Diary. Then in 1818, she wrote,"cutout profiles for Mr. A. Gould;"9 a bereaved man whose young wife and infant son had recently been buried. It is likely that these were posthumous portraits intended to be memorials to the deceased. The Diary contains numerous subsequent references to Ruth obligingly sketching the images ofdeparted loved ones. By early 1819, Ruth's "profiles:' or "shadows:' as she also called them, were being taken with increasing frequency, usually in the evening. Of one "cloudy" morning, however, she wrote, "Rev'd. Holt left us at 12, after having his profile taken by darkening the room!' Although Ruth was probably aware of the physiognotrace machine"for taking profiles, such a cumbersome device would hardly have lent itself to the spontaneous circumstances under which she drew. More likely, the subject's shadow would be cast by candle or lamp upon a wall, or another flat surface, to which drawing paper was affixed. Then she would trace their outline with pencil or dark crayon. Pencil was used to delineate the eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth, as well as details of shirring and lace patterns. Mrs. Bascom's earliest efforts may have resulted in the then popular hollow-cut figures. Four known life-size bust profiles with her typical proportions have descended in families with other Bascom portraits,or with family connections. In general though, her work took one of two forms: Cut in one or more pieces and assembled as a collage on a paper ground, or drawn and colored on a single piece of paper. Of the 185 known extant portraits, slightly more than half are in the latter style. Whereas most of the earlier pictures were assembled in parts and the later ones were drawn on one piece of paper, there was a long period when both forms were used, even within groups of portraits from the same family done at the same time. As late as November 22, 1845, Ruth Bascom still wrote in her Diary of"cutting" profiles. Mrs. Bascom was not content to simply take a profile; she embellished, enhanced and individualized her works. About 15 per cent of the profiles have metallic foil decoupage pasted on to represent buttons, beads(Young Woman with Flower Stick Pin), hair ornaments, earrings or spectacles. Lace ribbons provided similar, but rarer, touches of realism (Fanny Goodnow Parmenter). The earlier collage types were generally placed on a solid colored — usually blue or

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Young Woman with Flower Stick Pin;Inscribed on backboard "taken 1829";Pastel and pencil on paper, gold foil, cut out in four pieces; 17/ 1 4x 12/ 1 4"(sight);Private collection. Detail shows the flower stick pin, penciled and chalked lacework, and decoupage beads ofgoldfoil.

The Clarion (Fall 1987)  

Ruth Henshaw Bascom: A Youthful Viewpoint • Another Face of the Diamond: Black Traditional Art from the Deep South • Objects and Origins: Th...

The Clarion (Fall 1987)  

Ruth Henshaw Bascom: A Youthful Viewpoint • Another Face of the Diamond: Black Traditional Art from the Deep South • Objects and Origins: Th...