A “Shadow” Mystery

Hughes silo.jpg

I bought this silhouette of an unknown gentleman many years ago. It’s pasted onto what is known as a trade card. Trade cards were often distributed by businesses, in this case an artist’s business, as an early form of advertising. Trade cards, like postcards, have their ardent collectors. There are a few other trade cards in the North Carolina Room collections.

hughes back.jpg

One afternoon I decided to figure out who Mr. Nichols was.  I looked in the city directories, but the only J.W. Nichols I could find was a realtor. I wasn’t sure he was the same person. An obituary for a J.W. Nichols in 1961 said that he and his brother operated a shoe store on Pack Square. Again, I wasn’t sure he was the same person. The only thing that I do know for sure is that Mr. Nichols–the artist–was in Asheville in August of 1924. And this is what I’m certain of.

Zoe Rhine stumbled on an article dated March 25, 1909 in the Bolivar Breeze of Bolivar, NY. The author of the article writes that as a boy Mr. Nichols lived “for a time” at Standards Corners near Wellsville, NY.  The author stated that Mr. Nichols was “in Belmont, NY Monday cutting silhouettes of the good looking people.”  Mr. Nichols having walked cross-country without funds from Pasadena, CA in eight (count em!) months. One presumes he was cutting silhouettes in every town he passed through. He is quoted as saying ” any fool can travel with money but a man with determination, concentrating his mind on some one means of support can travel with out money.” That meant cutting silhouettes in every town he passed through, although I doubt he had much business as he walked across the Mojave desert and the deserts of Utah.

Posted by Terry Taylor, Friends of the NC Room board member (and collector!)


  1. Another accomplished silhouette artist to call Asheville home, at least for a time, was Louise Browning. Her twin daughters were also gifted in the cutting arts. They were here by at least 1932. Signed Browning silhouettes are popular with collectors.

  2. Silhouettes were common in the 1920s. My grandparents had silhouettes made in Havana while on vacation .

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