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Silhouettes created by local man

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By CONNIE ESH The Wilson Post

Some artists use a brush, but not Wilson County’s Tim Arnold.

He uses a small very sharp pair of scissors.

Arnold practices the art of cutting free-hand paper silhouettes. It’s an ancient practice which grew out of the miniature movement of the 1600s, and is basically unchanged.

Arnold has his subject sit for a portrait much as an oil painter would, except his delicate black portraits are complete in minutes with no need to wait for the paint to dry.

A few things have changed, he said.

“I use all acid-free papers,” he said. When the art form began, artists didn’t know about such things.

He learned the art from his mother who he said was a natural at it.

“She sold the first silhouette she ever made,” he said. “She made it look simple. I was an art major and I thought I can do that.”

But he was slightly mistaken. It took him about five years to  

Becky Andrews came in to see the “Silhouette Man” Tim Arnold at work and decided to have her own silhouettes made. She was so pleased she made an appointment to bring her children in for a setting on Good Friday.    

CONNIE ESH / The Wilson Post

learn the process and most of another five years to develop his current style, called “Old European Embellished Style.” The detailed silhouettes resemble cameos, which Arnold said became popular at about the same time.

Arnold has the honor of being recommended by the Smithsonian Institute for his special skill.

A few years ago when some antique silhouettes were discovered in the one of the oldest houses west of the Appalachian Mountains, the Bodley Bullock House in Lexington, a special event was being planned to promote the house and show the silhouettes.

The promoters called the Smithsonian to have the art pieces evaluated and asked if the Smithsonian could recommend some one to create silhouettes at a reception they planned.

The person there recommended Arnold.

“I don’t have any idea how they had heard about me, but I’m pleased to have the recommendation,” he said.

In part because it’s how the silhouettes are traditionally made, Arnold always cuts two at a time.

“It’s the only art form I know that creates more than one original,” he said.

Arnold said his artistic hero is Henri Matisse.

“Matisse did some beautiful paper cuttings,” Arnold said.  In the last years of his life Matisse was unable to get up and move around, so he had art students paint abstract colors on paper then he cut out shapes and had them put up on the walls of his studio.

Arnold who has lived in Wilson County since he married a Nashville native several years ago, say he has one other important honor. His silhouettes have been hung on all seven continents.

“About 15 years ago I had silhouettes on all but Antarctica,” he said. “I never thought that would happen, but then this woman bought a set and she said, ‘You’ll never guess where these are going.’ She was sending them to he son who was stationed in Antarctica.”

For those who would like to have a silhouette made by Arnold he will be at Monograms Plus on Good Friday. To schedule a silhouette, call 449-5748 and tell the ladies there you want an appointment.

Staff Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at

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