Variations on a childhood silhouette
Recently, my brother Joe told me he had found a childhood silhouette of me from my early school days at Granite Quarry School. I think it was from when I was in Mrs. Kluttz’s first-grade class.
Many of you, not far on either side of my age (63) may still have your early grade silhouettes as well. My son Jeremy is 29, and I have his; so even now, there may be a chance that some teachers in some schools are still producing these childhood mementoes (although, not in as much assembly line fashion as before). They also bring to mind the “palm print in plaster” or the Thanksgiving “hand-turkey.”
In reflection, my only effort in this example of early childhood art had been to cast my shadow; I believe Mrs. Kluttz did most of the work.
Silhouettes have a low-tech advantage over photographs, in that they don’t yellow with age. That’s the advantage with black paper. Jeremy’s is still as dark as the day it was done, although the contrasting white has yellowed a little. When I stop by Joe’s house to pick up my old first-grade silhouette, it will be interesting to see if my 1957-58 “shadow” has faded to gray. (Due to the fading of paint, for the past several years now at the Danville Science Center-Train Station, we have had a “little pink caboose” parked on an untraveled spur of rail out back.)
My son’s silhouette bears a strong resemblance to my mind’s-eye memory of mine.
Silhouettes are always “profiles,” of course. (If a silhouette were straight on, all of them would look more or less alike.) And, similarly of course, those “profiles” are limited to the head, not full-body, like that of Alfred Hitchcock. (Some years ago, my full-body profile sort of looked a little like his.)
After my Granite Quarry silhouette, I didn’t encounter those sort of “pictures” again until “The Great East Rowan Band Trip of 1966” when we toured Mount Vernon. There, of course, we saw the framed, much older silhouettes of George and Martha.
Over the course of this past winter, like all the winters before, “branching” silhouettes abounded on the horizon in that time just before dawn and just following sunset. Since I don’t often get up before dawn, I’ll concern myself, and you, with that evening “twilight zone” (nothing strange, just melancholically beautiful).
In that winter season and minutes before the stars appear, the silhouettes of trunks, limbs and twigs come out, backlit by the just-set sun. The trees then become true silhouettes, as “jet black” replaces both “bark-gray” and “lichen-green.”
A tree’s fruit-bearing past is also highlighted there above. I recall seeing the still affixed and opened, dark husks from which pecans had fallen months before.
I noticed similarly lofty, but unopened silhouetted husks from that same season, the promise of fruit still contained, un-gnawed by squirrels and un-cracked by a nutcracker.
Even in their winter season, these arboreal silhouettes are short-lived on a daily basis, because a silhouette consists not just of black, but also of the contrasting color (just like the old ones of me and my son). In that brief, softly glowing time of the post-set sun, the gold on the horizon “points out” the silhouettes there.
As the stars begin to appear, the winter silhouettes of barren limbs are already blending into the darkness. When the moon becomes full, they appear again, but with the lesser lunar phases, they remain with the night.
While walking the other evening, I looked toward the horizon and saw that the angular, “brecciated” starkness of the “sky sticks” was starting to become rounded like “pudding stone.”
These softer features were being painted upon previously dead-looking twigs by the “paraphernalia” of spring: growing buds, tiny flower tassels, and juvenile leaves.
In the weeks ahead, all of the skeletal silhouettes will flesh out (or “veg” out) into the overall form of a tree, like those depicted in my Granite Quarry School colorings done in the springtimes of those past years.
On that recent stroll, just before twilight became night, I glanced up at a nearby scene not yet “softened” with new growth. The branches and twigs were still prominent in their crisp black angularity, surrounding a slightly fainter woven nest of fine twigs and pine needles.
Just weeks before, I had seen such nests at that same time of evening. They seemed even “emptier” than the syndrome of similar name experienced by human parents when their children have left to make their own way in the world.
This nest was a sign of spring, a sign less gaudy than the others, but just as surely a sign, for it was no longer empty. There was some difficulty in seeing beyond a few intervening branches, but I managed to make out the silhouette of a beaked, avian head above the nest’s rim, the head of a creature at rest.
On seeing this, I thought of spring’s annual promise. As I walked by, I felt that somewhere in the extended blackness beneath this silhouetted, recumbent form, there was an intuitively guessed, unseen but expected number of tiny eggs.