Mixed in the safe with her family’s birth certificates and the title to their Niantic, Conn., home were her son’s and daughter’s silhouettes. The hand-cut images were done at four points throughout their young lives – ages 1, 3, 5 and 7.
Once again, Olivia DeLea, 17, and Eric DeLea, 19, accompanied their mother on a long drive, this time to complete the set.
“I don’t ask for much,” DeLea said, “but this is really important to me.”
But silhouettes were not the only attract to Saturday’s fair, hosted by the Sherborn Friends of the Council on Aging.
Thirty-five exhibitors were on hand to sell a wide variety of their individual and original creations.
The Friends’ annual Holiday Cookie Bake was the “double feature” accompanying this year’s Bazaar. More than 50 of Sherborn’s “Best Bakers” sold their home-baked varieties available to hungry patrons. Varieties range from New England’s oldest classics to the very latest popular additions.
For the DeLeas, silhouettes have become a cherished family tradition, and the artist who cuts them freehand is just as much a part of it as the silhouettes themselves. Olivia and Eric are just two of whom silhouette artist Joy Anne MacConnell believes to be hundreds of children she’s seen grow up on paper.
The night before they completed their silhouette series, the family had portraits taken. For their mother, though, the silhouettes are much more meaningful.
“When you look at them, it’s pure,” she said.
Unlike the portraits, the silhouettes are “the optimal image of someone,” DeLea said. “They’re not judgmental in any way.”
She was slightly concerned about her son’s chosen hairstyle, with tufts of hair emerging from a backwards baseball cap. Still, she said, “When you look at them, it’s pure.”
The silhouettes don’t show her son’s earring, but the family traits are still visible.
MacConnell has cut for silhouettes so many kids’ faces, it’s hard for her to keep track. When DeLea proudly presented the artist with her past work, MacConnell could recognize the children on the paper.
“You can tell it’s the same child,” she said.
As Eric stood to allow MacConnell to cut out the last details of his final silhouette, she craned her neck to look up at a young man who was a baby the first time she cut him.
When it was done, he said, “It’s a little different from the first one.”
Silhouettes are a tradition for many families, including MacConnell’s. She followed her mother’s example by taking on the art, and making it her career over the last 48 years. She began cutting them with her mother at Hampton Beach, N.H., as a 7-year-old, and she said she quickly developed the skill. MacConnell sat as her mother cut out her own face from paper for 50 consecutive years.
The DeLeas are one of numerous families willing to travel for the service. They traveled from as far as Cape Cod to visit MacConnell for an update. In all likelihood, she used the same scissors for the most recent ones as she did for most of the past silhouettes. She’s had the same pair of scissors for 15 years and hasn’t sharpened them once.
Six months ago, MacConnell moved to Victor, Idaho, and now does most of her work in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Unlike New England and the Midwest, where more colonial values drive up demand for the roughly 25-30 working silhouette artists, silhouettes are an untapped art in the Northwest.
The Sherborn Craft Bazaar was her first return trip to New England since moving west, and she’s in high demand, working a full 9-5 day at the bazaar. She’ll make three more trips back across the country in 2012 because, she said, “I want to be here for my people.”
The booking for MacConnell’s time began a month in advance, with a flurry of calls coming in during the week before her arrival. Those who didn’t get in were disappointed, according to Audrey Raycroft, a Sherborn resident who helped organize the event.
The first silhouette of the day was for a woman who wasn’t able to get one last year, Raycroft said. The last was a grandmother who brought five children from two sides of her family.
“Parents are always very excited about it,” Raycroft said. “People appreciate the art.”
Families such as the DeLeas filled out the rest of the day’s appointments, bringing their kids for updates, or bringing children for the first time. The Kozins brought their daughter Kyra, 11, along with her two younger brothers. Kyra had her first silhouette done at age 5, and her father, Dan Kozin, suggested they might be back in another five or six years.
Although MacConnell’s clients range in age from months old to octogenarians, most of the faces she did in Sherborn were young. She discourages parents from giving their children many details about the process, to avoid putting ideas in their heads about what’s going to happen.
Still, an eager mother brought her kids to check in, and said they’d debated each other about what they were in for. One was convinced that the artist would be drawing on her face, while her brother was certain that MacConnell was actually going to cut his face.
When children are between the ages of 3 and 5, MacConnell calls on the help of an assistant to keep the child facing straight ahead. The helper will speak to the child in a whisper, use picture books, or in extreme cases, they’ll use what Raycroft called, “the puppet of last resort.”
It took the DeLeas about 90 minutes to get to Sherborn, but the journey to complete the fifth series was much longer. DeLea had her son’s silhouette done for the first time in 1993 at the Niantic Arts and Crafts Show, and 18 years later the series is complete.
Someone other than MacConnell did the second set of silhouettes in the DeLea’s collection.
“That was a mourning experience for me,” DeLea said.
Ever since, they’ve sought out MacConnell specifically.
“It’s such a rare skill,” DeLea said, “You can see how much she enjoys what she does it comes through in the final product.”
MacConnell, dressed in all black, had a golden silhouette hanging from a chain around her neck. When she told DeLea that she’d soon be offering similar versions for her clients, DeLea said, “Sign me up.”
Proceeds from Friends of the COA will help to serve Sherborn’s older citizens by supporting the many Council on Aging services, activities, programs and individual and family assistance that helps to make aging a more fulfilling and rewarding experience.