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Artist Profile: Clay Rice

The Timeless Art of Silhouettes

By Natalie del Valle
Silhouette cutting has stood the test of time since it first began in the mid-1700s. Its unique, vintage-style appearance makes it very popular today, although the art form has lost much of its authenticity since the invention of machines that cut precise images in a matter of seconds. There are only a few silhouette artists who still cut by hand, using nothing but a pair of scissors and a keen eye. Clay Rice is one of them, and he takes pride in his uncommon ability. I can look at a childs profile one time and have it in my head exactly what he or she looks like. Ive been doing this for so long; it literally takes me a minute to cut the childs profile out, Clay says.

As the third generation in his family to cut silhouettes, Clays talent is no surprise. The art has been in his family for 86 years. Clays grandfather first started cutting silhouettes in 1930. When Clay was a young boy, the art form was passed down to him. I started cutting silhouettes at six years old. My grandfather taught me. I learned basic shapes, and I eventually advanced into making more detailed landscapes and profiles, Clay says. Now, hes been making silhouettes professionally for the past 35 years, and he uses some of his work to illustrate his childrens stories.

Although it only takes Clay a minute to cut out a profile of a child, it takes much longer to create the beautiful scenes and landscapes like those seen in his childrens books. Some of my more intricate work can take hundreds of hours to do, and they sell extremely well. My landscape artwork sells so fast that I hardly have time to create enough silhouettes to do a show, Clay says. While Clay doesnt sell the childrens silhouette illustrations, he does cut profiles of children while traveling to showcase his stories. Not only can I do the childrens silhouettes that hang on the wall, each child can have their silhouette cut out and mounted inside their copy of one of my books to personalize it, Clay says. This fall, Clay had 96 events, in 35 states. I live out of a suitcase for about half of the year, he proclaims.

As a songwriter-turned-author and an artist, Clay has a lot of talent to offer to the world. My childrens stories have won several awards. The Lonely Shadow won the Moonbeam Award in 2009, and a gold medal in the 2010 IPPY Awards. I also won the Benjamin Franklin Award for my story The Stick in 2015, Clay says. Between the poetic and musical rhythm of Clays story lines, and his unique illustrations, his childrens books are well-loved and widely received. Its obvious this is Clays passion. This is all I have ever done for the past 35 years of my life. It is my life.