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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Profile of a Profiler

Profile of a Profiler:
Silhouette Artist Deborah O’Connor visits Troy Fine Art
(Posted to 1/30)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Southport, CT – A fascination with a set of profile cutouts that her best friend had done when they were young girls steered Deborah O’Connor to pursue a career as a silhouette artist. Now a Master Silhouettist, O’Connor brought her services to Southport for the day on Saturday.

Hosting the Wakefield, Rhode Island artist from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. was Troy Fine Art at 3310 Post Road. Her program, titled “A Silhouette of Love”, offered area families the opportunity to capture their likenesses for posterity in silhouette form.
A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Fairfield Arts Center.

“One of the first silhouettes I ever saw was that of my best friend and her sister,” said O’Connor, 59. “They had them done by a silhouettist at Old Orchard Beach in Maine back in the late 50s. In person, the two girls looked identical in complexion and hairstyle, but when you looked at the two cutouts side by side, they were definitely distinctive. These images stayed in the back of my mind as I began studying oil painting, something I pursued into my 20s.”

O’Connor studied with Gene Tonoff, a Bulgarian oil painter, and, in fact, planned to pursue oil painting as a career. Toward that goal, she attended the Boston School of Fine Arts for a year. But the silhouettes kept coming back to her and altered her plans.

“In my early 20s, I began looking for formal programs to learn silhouetting, but there were none,” O’Connor explained. “I decided to make a go of it on my own, found a paper source, bought small scissors and practiced on people in restaurants and with relatives and friends. Then I began booking myself into various art shows.”

O’Connor says things really took off at that point. “Once I got exposure, opportunities just began coming. I didn’t have to promote myself. Thirty-five years ago, people were very familiar with the medium, but there weren’t a lot of places where they could get the work done.”

The craft was challenging at first, said O’Connor. “When I first started doing silhouettes, the key thing was analyzing a face to identify unique features. But as I became recognized and people lined up for their silhouettes, I found that I would get into a Zen-like state and the cuttings would more or less produce themselves.”

O’Connor says the skill takes focus. “My painting teacher, Tonoff, would have me do exercises in focusing, which is key in being disciplined in the craft.”

Silhouette sittings at the gallery were by appointment and the first family to show was the Busks, from Westport – Fred and Andrea and their girls Lulu, 11, and Bella, 9. “This is the first time we’ve done this with our children, though my wife and I had our own done as children. We wanted to ‘document’ our children with their mother at different ages, so this will be the inaugural session. Then, I will do one with our son Kee, who is 12.”

Waiting on deck was another family, the Schermanns – Ian and Katy and their daughter Audrey, 2, from Norwalk. “I heard this is really cool to watch,” said Katy. “My younger sister had one done. I thought it would be special to have one of Audrey, especially to capture her cute little round nose.”

As Andrea Busk completed her sitting and her daughter Bella took her turn, gallery co-owner Denise DiGrigoli Amuso explained framing and mounting options to her and her husband.

“Deborah did my daughter’s silhouette three years ago and I loved it and wanted to bring her to our new studio, which we opened Nov. 1,” said Amuso. “We’ve called today’s program ‘A Silhouette of Love’ as it’s really a celebration of a family moment.”

As Bella completed her sitting, she shared what it was like to be captured in this way. “You have to stare at the same place and you can’t move your eyes. When someone goes in front of you, it’s tough not to smile. It’s really hard to sit still like that for so long, although really it was only about five minutes. It just seemed longer.”

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