The Prodigy, the Villain, and the Explosion.

Good Idea for a Screenplay.


Silhouette by Master Hubard.

Silhouette by Master Hubard.

This blog entry was original going to be about silhouettes from England, but we happened upon a story that has all the best parts for a movie. So, we’ll go in that direction.

Imagine you are sitting in a church pew near the village of Warwick, England, in 1814. A small boy, about the age of seven, is seated ahead of you and is cutting paper. The minister is animated as he preaches the lengthy sermon. At the end of the sermon, the little boy holds up a silhouette likeness of the preacher. Not just any likeness, but an exact, perfect copy, which captures the man’s forehead, nose, chin, etc. His parents are bewildered.

Word spreads across the village, to the neighboring towns and to the ear of a mysterious Mr. Smith. The boy, now age 12, and his talent are developing. Mr. Smith offers the boy and his family his services. He will assist the boy by marketing him and his talents. Together, they leave the village life behind and travel through the British Isles. Mr. Smith advertises the boy’s gift, or does he exploit the boy?  The boy can cut silhouettes with a common pair of scissors, never using machinery, just relying upon his dexterity and skill. A face silhouette can be cut in 25 seconds, for the price of a few shillings. The promoter sets his sights on America.

Master William James Hubard and Mr. Smith cross the ocean in 1824. A business is set up in New York and Boston, the “Hubard Gallery”. Here, Master Hubard produces a large collection of silhouettes, cutting the shape out of black paper and pasting them to a white card. To compete with the new photography art form, he began to add watercolors to the silhouettes to enhance features or the background. His subjects were everyday people, important buildings, and well-known celebrities. A single silhouette could be purchased for 50 cents.

Label on the back of the silhouette purchased in England.

Label on the back of the silhouette purchased in England.

Suddenly, three years later, the prodigy is finished with Mr. Smith and decides to exit the silhouettes business. Why? No one knows. But William now forges on without Mr. Smith, who continues in the silhouette business, hiring others to work at the “Hubard Gallery”. William Hubard has a new life as a painter and he is quite good. He marries Maria Mason Tabb of Gloucester, Virginia. In the 1850s, after a trip to Italy, he establishes a foundry in Richmond for casting bronzes, his new obsession since the trip.

Now for the explosion…..Civil War comes to America. William chooses a side and, at his foundry, he focuses his attention on manufacturing cannon barrels for the Confederate Army. Soon, he tries his hand at projectiles for large guns. And in 1862, he accidentally blows himself up. At the end of his life, those closest to him, had no idea of his early life with Mr. Smith. They didn’t even know he was a silhouettist. Why did he keep this a secret? One friend revealed that William had indicated that he had escaped from the clenches of a traveling showman.

This story began, for us, when we purchased a silhouette in Newark, England. We have several antique silhouettes at the store, and can’t wait to research their stories. Stay tuned!

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Filed under Knowledge/History of Antique Item

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