Rufus Kendall Cummings Silhouette Artist

Not much is known about this so-called "profilist." I've seen his works from time to time and always thought he was British. He worked in copy-and-paste style, used card backing, and often hilighted the figures. His finished silhouettes are quite good and resemble those typical British silhouettes of the time in style: nice but nothing special happening. For that reason, I never paid any attention to Cummings in the past. He is, however, very special, as you will see. He is one of those silhouette artists that came and went without ever been discovered, until today that is. We will expose him here and in the future, throughout this blog as we learn more about him.

I am sure Cummings advertised in local Boston newspapers, but I have yet to find one, as this is a new project in its infancy. However, I was able to find another form of his advertisement from the 1840s: a broadside. WorldCat shows six holdings (original? digital copy?) of this broadside measuring 18 x 23cm. With a printed area, including ornamental border, it measures 15.7 x 13.7 cm, according to WorldCat. If I were writing a research paper, I would contact those libraries and will get a digital copy of it, but not here for this purpose. I just wanted the readers to know such broadside exists.

Profiles. : Mr. R.K. Cummings, most respectfully informs the public that having devoted many years in the study and practice of the art of profile cutting, he is now enabled to present to every one who will honor him with a trial, with as accurate, or well finished profile as can possibly be procured in the country. ...

Because of Cummings' British style of silhouettes, I am sure he studied in England or was instructed by a British artist here in America. His name stamp (stencil?), "By R. K. Cummings / Profilist" on the backside of the card suggests he mimicked the stamps used by Hubard and Hankes, who were of British origin working in America. Prior to painting and cutting silhouettes in the 1840s, he must have worked in a limited number of miniature portraits, as one was submitted for exhibit to the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association for the year 1837.

Mary Alice Wisewell, in one of the chapters of Marcus Whitman's memoir, WHITMAN RIDES 1842–1843, writes:

We are told that while in Boston Whitman had his silhouette drawn by a Mr. R. K. Cummings. Whitman considered the result so unsatisfactory that he did not even get a copy for his mother. Daguerreotypes were then being made in Boston, but the cheapest, as then advertised in the daily papers, cost $3.50. No doubt Whitman felt that this was more than he could afford.

Whitman's comment of  the silhouette being "so unsatisfactory" is difficult to imagine. I do not ever recall seeing a terrible work by Cummings. Some were surely better than others, but every work I have seen was at least average to above average in quality. When one considers Cummings an American born silhouettist, he was a lot better than most other American sihouettists of the 19th century. I know he met Edouart in Boston, as Edouart cut a figure of Cummings in November 13, 1841.

Did Cummings learn any tricks of the trade from Edouart? I am sure he did, even if it were in a limited way. I believe Cummings learned a trick or two from Hubard as well. Cummings was a local Boston area boy, born on May 29, 1811 and died there on March 26, 1864. Is he the same Rufus Cummings who appears as a piano-forte maker and polisher in Boston directories from 1841 through 1849? I am sure he had other trades beside cutting silhouettes to make a living.

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