The mission of Greenfield Village, which was established 1929 by Henry Ford in Dearborn, MI, is to "provide unique educational experiences based on authentic objects, stories, and lives from America's traditions of ingenuity, resourcefulness and innovation," with the purpose to "inspire people to learn from these traditions to help shape a better future". While this is the officially stated mission, the staff sometimes describes it as "We want to show the many facets of three centuries of American culture and innovation. We want to take what someone expects to see and break that expectation".
In December 2019, I was invited as a guest artist, to present in Greenfield Village a historical scene, and demonstrate silhouettes to thousands of people. My creation of a silhouette artist studio around 1917 broke with the established expectation that silhouettes should be presented as a quaint colonial offering from a time before the invention of cameras.
I researched and presented a 19-teens story of silhouettes as a facet of the contemporary American culture, which at the time had gotten used to the ongoing invention of new objects and their subsequent production in factories, and regained an appetite for handmade objects. I connected this to World War I as well as artistic trends such as the Arts and Crafts Movement.
I was given an empty ca. 1808 building, formerly occupied by an early 20th-century agricultural pioneer. I used one of the rooms to set up a ca. 1917 silhouette artist's studio, and set up a second roomto give live demonstrations approximately every 5 minutes for 4 hours per night. Since the event was held at night, I crafted a lighting scheme to simulate natural light while also focusing attention on elements like the informational sign, which helped the visitors to understand and visually explore the room alone.
Visitors spent between 2 and 10 minutes in the Silhouette Artist Studio scene before entering the Demonstration Room, where I was presenting a live demonstration of cutting silhouettes and interpreting at the same time. The Demonstration Room was decorated with my reproductions of early 20th century silhouettes, including silhouettes created of WWI soldiers, the Prince of Wales at that time, and other silhouettes that showed early 20th century life. Many visitors were surprised to learn that such silhouettes were not made from shadows, and also that silhouettes had endured to the 20th (and even the 21st) century.
Every element of the installation was planned and executed by me, from the sign in front of the building, to the display and lighting, to the canvas informational sign in the artist studio. I researched all historical elements, including contemporary artist clothing and studio decor, and developed my own version of a 19-teens silhouette artist studio.
The Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum staff have repeatedly expressed their appreciation for my ability to work autonomously, produce remarkable setups, and presentations that have a lasting postive effect on visitors. At such a busy museum, with so many facets, exhibits, buildings, staff, volunteers, and many thousands of guests each day, it is very important that an outside contractor can be trusted to uphold the institution's mission and purpose.
Visitors are emotionally transported out of their daily thoughts and into the past. We, the re-creators of the past, must seamlessly connect the modern-day visitors to the temporary "alien" feeling of residing in the past with us.