Shadowboxes and Silhouettes

June 8–July 13, 2008

Artist unknown (American). Family Scene with Abraham Lincoln, c. late 19th century. Cut paper, 10 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches. Collection of Mrs. Perry Menking, Tyler.

Mildred Grinstead. Early American Interior, c. 1999. Wood, paint, copper and needlepoint, 12 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 3 3/4 inches. Collection of the artist.

Shadowboxes and Silhouettes
, organized by the Tyler Museum of Art, bears its title as a tribute to the contributions of longtime TMA patrons Mildred H. Grinstead and Dede Menking—the former as an artist, the latter as collector.

The shadowboxes of the exhibition's title are designed and created by Mrs. Grinstead, highlighting a popular way to display a room of miniatures without utilizing an entire dollhouse. Also called vignettes or room boxes, the shadowboxes allow the artist to play on different styles and moods for each one. Mrs. Grinstead's love of miniatures began as a child, when her father had a dollhouse built for her. Years later, after her own children had entered school, she and her son, Jay, worked on dollhouse kits and miniature rooms until the Wilton House in Virginia inspired Mildred anew. Working in a full scale, in which 1 inch equals 1 foot, Mrs. Grinstead recreated the Wilton House in miniature, in a process that took almost six years.

"Several model houses later, I had collected a large amount of incredible miniatures from builders in America and Europe," Mrs. Grinstead said. "Looking for a way to display the miniatures in small spaces, I began to create the room shadowboxes. And I've just gone from there."

An added feature to the shadowboxes on exhibit will be the inclusion of a miniature house and furniture in the style of the Georgian period, donated to the TMA last year by Mrs. Grinstead. The house, constructed c.1977 and modeled after an 18th-century home in Santa Tecla, El Salvador, also features rugs and other textiles hand-made by Francis Connally Morriss of Tyler during the 1970s and '80s, with furnishings and household items donated to the Museum by her family.

The silhouettes in the exhibition represent the collection of Mrs. Perry Menking, a Houston native who made Tyler her home five years ago. She said she began acquiring them "one at a time" about 35 years ago, when Mrs. Menking's home décor consisted mostly of American antiques and she became fascinated by the silhouette process which was extremely popular in the U.S. from about 1790 and 1840, prior to the advent of photography.

"Someone in those days wishing to have an inexpensive portrait created of their loved ones would have visited a silhouette artist," Mrs. Menking said. "Within minutes and using only a pair of scissors, or sometimes ink, and a skillful eye, he would have produced a little image with a remarkable resemblance to his subject."

Though the invention of the camera signaled the end of the silhouette as a widespread form of portraiture, "their popularity is being reborn in a new generation of people who appreciate the silhouette as a nostalgic and unique way of capturing a loved one's image," she added.