Cool Stuff for Mosaic Artists

The Beauty that is "Silhouette Style"

mosaic of aircraft mechanic working on plane

Mosaic art is one of the oldest and best preserved art forms in the history of the world. Yet, there is at least one mosaic method that has been essentially forgotten in spite of the vast creative opportunities it offers. The method is called "Silhouette Style." The most striking examples are now national treasures that were commissioned in 1931 for the Union Terminal of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The artist, Winold Reiss was commisioned to depict American workers of the day in 18 murals that covered 11,908 square feet of wall. The method - silhouette style. Silhouette style means the main elements of the mosaic are done with tesserae, and the backgrounds are colored stucco.

Using the silhouette style, Mr. Reiss was able to create negative space in a way that tesserae cannot. As in other art, the use of negative space draws attention to the subject. When used in a mosaic, it also contrasts the texture of the tesserae and elevates its interest. It also saves money.

The way that Mr. Reiss and his team created the mosaics would today be called the "modified double reverse". Mr. Reiss made photographs of workers at their job. They enlarged the photos to make cartoons (patterns). Then the craftsmen shaped the tesserae and lightly glued them on the cartoon which had been cut into two-foot sections. When a section was complete, they glued another piece of paper to the exposed side (sandwiching the tesserae between 2 pieces of paper) and shipped it to the job site.

Once on the job site the installers spread a thin coat of plaster on the wall, starting at the bottom. The paper was removed from the back of a mosaic section and it was placed in the plaster. When it was dry the paper was removed from the front of the mosaic and the process repeated. Once the mural was set, colored stucco was spread to make the backgrounds around the subjects.

To give you a view of the detail in these mosaics we have enlarged sections of the photos of three of the murals. The images are large, on one page, and may take a moment to load but will be very informative. Click here.

Several of these murals are located at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky airport and others are in Union Terminal which houses the Museum Center. When you can look at them in person, don't miss the chance.


TAGGED WITH: silhouette style, weinold reiss, cincinnati, union terminal, mural

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