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SILHOUETTIST
MARIE HARTSHORN CHEEK

Article by Brendan Coffey

Photos by Timothy Devine

MARIE HARTSHORN CHEEK PREFERS MEN WITH FACIAL HAIR -- but it's strictly for the professional challenge. Cheek is a practitioner of the largely lost art of silhouette cutting, and, in her opinion, the profile of a bearded man makes for the best results. "You can cut every mustache and beard hair to get all of this tiny detail," she says. "They look really neat!" Hers is an art form that was last in vogue when Pierre L'Enfant was still drawing up plans for Washington. The small profiles were cut freehand and treasured by recipients, becoming the closest thing to a photograph that most 18th-century Americans would ever possess.

Trained in painting and printmaking, Annandale-based Cheek came to silhouettes after years of doing technical drawing for the likes of the Army and Navy. "You go where the money is. It's tough for people with arts backgrounds," she explains. She finally went into business for herself doing caricatures at parties and events; when a client asked if she could also do silhouettes, she learned the craft and added it to her repertoire. Today, corporate shindigs make up most of the market for her delicate shadow portraits. An increasing number of individuals, though, are hiring her to immortalize their children and pets -- subjects that have trouble sitting still even for the five minutes the artist requires. But silhouetting, cautions Cheek, may not always be the ego boost most clients are after. Her creations are unforgiving of wens, weak chins and other physical imperfections. "If it's there," Cheek says grimly, "you have to put it in."

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