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Before photography became widespread, paper silhouettes were an affordable alternative to painted portraits. The name itself is derived from 18th century French financial minister Etienne de Silhouette, whose penny-pinching policies made him infamous and his name associated with frugality. Silhouettes were the cheapest way to record a loved one’s likeness. They immortalized spouses, children, friends and even pets. These creations could be hung in lockets or put in frames, and sometimes included incredible hand-drawn backgrounds, such as those in the two bottom portraits. (These portraits are from the collections of the American Jewish Historical Society, one of the Center’s partners.)

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