Tim Arnold of Nashville practices an art form that fanned a protest in the 60s - the 1760s.
In France in the 1760s, people were starving under the merciless tax policies of Etienne de Silhouette, the country’s finance minister. The finance minister, unconcerned, devoted his time to practicing the latest fad -- cutting out paper profiles. In protest, the peasants wore only black, mimicking his black paper cutouts.
It was later, in the 1800s in America, that the “Golden Age” of silhouette cutting became popular, as wealthy Americans and politicians invited European silhouette artists to the U.S. to capture them in cutouts.
Tim Arnold, who will be at Dandy Lions on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 12-13, to cut silhouettes for customers, learned his art from his mother. She taught him how to cut silhouettes when he was in college.
“I was in advertising for 16 years as a graphic designer. I was a creative director in New York City, and I had done this as hobby,” he said, in a telephone interview from a finished gig in Louisiana.
“This was in the 1970s, and I did parties and special events, but I had a regular, full-time job. I didn’t realize until the early 1980s that I could make a living with it,” he said. “All the years in advertising helped me realize you had to approach it professionally.”
Arnold said as he watched people get ready to have their silhouettes cut, he realized it was something of an event. “People are bringing kids like they’re going to a professional photographer,’” he said.
He was ready for a change. “I had been in retail 16 years,” he said. “I quit my job in New York and went on the road. I started in 1986 and have been doing it ever since. Now it has turned into a 26-state tour, and I’m driving all over creation.”
There are some famous silhouettes in his portfolio. In the early 1990s, Sharon and Neal Bush had Arnold do silhouettes of their children for then President George H.W. Bush, their grandfather. “I got a private tour of the residence and met the president. Those silhouettes hung in the White House,” Arnold said.
Arnold did silhouettes of singer Amy Grant’s children, and he has done silhouettes for several governors. Doing a silhouette of singer Marty Stewart was one of his favorites. “I love Blue Grass and loved meeting him,” he said.
To critics who contend that silhouettes pretty much look alike, Arnold is quick to explain that it is the detail that makes for a better silhouette. “Lots of little kids have similarities, but they’re all different. I don’t cut out generic kids. The biggest fault I find in this business is with silhouette artists deciding they can make money doing mediocre work, and it bugs me,” he said.
Arnold charges $40 for his completed silhouette, which only takes about a five-minute sitting time for the child. “That 40 bucks isn’t cheap, but I try to do a really, really good job,” he said. “A lot of stuff I see done, people have paid good money for, and it doesn’t even resemble their child. That is cheating to me. I try really hard to make them really look like the person.”
On Tuesday evening, Arnold was returning from LaFayette, La., where he did 140 people in two days. Every five minutes he had a new client. “I have to work really fast, and I want the work to be very good. I don’t want them to look batted out. If I run a little behind, I run behind. It is a hard day. I’m pretty tired.”
Arnold can also do more complicated “Special” pieces, but those can’t be done in 5 minutes. “People can email me photos, and I can give them a price,” he said. “I do a lot of real fancy bridal stuff but I’m not able to do those in a regular workday.”
Arnold said he is a Christian, and his talent is gift of God. Arnold said his mother had the same attitude. “She said this is a gift and treat it as a gift. Don’t go around bragging about it. The older I get, the more I appreciate it. It is a way to bless people,” he said. “That is a real gift of the Lord.”
Dandy Lions will be taking appointments for Tim Arnold’s visit. Call the store, which is located at 300 E. Church Ave., at 865-977-5466 to make a reservation.