Sunday mornings at church, shrimpin’ on the river, a snowy egret standing tall in the marsh grasses and hundreds of thousands of profiles spanning generations -- Clay Rice has captured all of these images and more during his 30 plus year career as a silhouette artist. Soon, he will bring his acclaimed talents to Daniel Island for the first time. Clay will feature his silhouette artistry, as well as storytelling and a musical performance, in “An Evening of Lowcountry-style Entertainment” to be held on Thursday, June 6, from 7 to 9 pm at the Daniel Island Club. The event is being presented by the Daniel Island Historical Society and the Daniel Island Community Fund.
Clay was inspired by his late grandfather, Carew Rice, a self-taught silhouette artist who reportedly bought his first pair of scissors in 1930 for 25 cents. The elder Rice, who taught his grandson the art while the pair spent time together on the family plantation in Wiggins, S.C., would later be described by Carl Sandburg as “America’s greatest silhouette artist.”
“I started cutting silhouettes…when I was six,” said Clay, referencing his early art sessions with his grandfather. “I watched him do it and he showed me a few things. I think I did a barnyard animal!” But Clay wouldn’t begin his own silhouette cutting career until about 14 years later, while he was trying to break into songwriting in Nashville. The lure of home proved too strong to ignore. “I came home one summer from that and just never went back,” recalled Clay. “I started cutting silhouettes at the hammock shops in Pawley’s Island.”
The strong work ethic he developed as a young boy working on his family’s property, as well as Mullet Hall Plantation, gave him the tools to succeed as an artist.
“It taught me about life, about hard work,” he recalled. “The best education I ever had was weeding the garden out there.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. Clay would carry on Carew’s silhouette legacy and build a successful following of his own, cutting one silhouette at a time. He estimates he has crafted more than 900,000 silhouettes over the years. Famed Lowcountry author Pat Conroy calls Clay “a great talent who combines soul and passion.” In addition to profiles, Clay also cuts silhouettes of landscapes, buildings, and things in nature. A highlight for Clay was getting an opportunity to create a silhouette for Daniel Island native and Master Blacksmith Philip Simmons many years ago. The piece is now displayed in the late Mr. Simmons’ home in downtown Charleston.
“I get satisfaction out of people enjoying what I do,” he said. “That’s really what keeps me going…It’s just being able to do the things that people like.”
Today, Clay travels the country conducting cutting sessions in book and toy stores as well as other venues. He uses many different sizes of scissors to get the perfect cut, creating silhouettes that are classic, intriguing and timeless. They are also highly sought after, according to Maxine Lutz, executive director of the Historic Beaufort Foundation, who once described a Rice silhouette as a “cherished piece of Southern history you will never sell.”
Despite his success with silhouette art, Clay’s said his “favorite thing of all” is writing. His great grandfather, James Henry Rice, Jr., was once the editor of The State newspaper in Columbia. In addition to writing several books, James was also very active in conservation and celebrating the outdoors. “He was a great writer, an eloquent writer,” Clay added.
Once again, a family art form was passed down. Clay’s children’s books, The Lonely Shadow and Mama Let’s Make a Moon, have received wide acclaim, earning the artist and author both a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and an IPPY Award for Children’s Book of the Year. His work has also been featured in Country Living, The Washington Times, and The Atlanta Constitution, as well as on the CBS television series “Army Wives.”
“I love both silhouettes and writing,” he said. “They are two different types of art, but they go very well together.”
The Daniel Island Historical Society (DIHS), formed in 2011 to preserve and promote the island’s rich and unique history for the benefit of the community, is proud to co-sponsor Clay’s upcoming program along with the Daniel Island Community Fund.
“The Daniel Island Historical Society is all about celebrating history, and this event is a perfect way for us to showcase someone who is creating timeless treasures through an art form that is hundreds of years old,” said Lee Ann Bain, vice president of DIHS. “…Clay’s beautiful and unique silhouettes are part of a family tradition spanning three generations here in the Lowcountry. We are excited to welcome him for his first performance on Daniel Island. This is definitely a ‘not to be missed’ opportunity!” “The Daniel Island Community Fund proudly partners with island clubs and organizations to try and bring interesting cultural opportunities and events to Daniel Island to benefit our residents,” added Jane Baker, vice president of community services for the Daniel Island Property Owners Association. “We are thrilled to be partnering this summer with the Daniel Island Historical Society to bring renowned Lowcountry artist and author Clay Rice to the Daniel Island Club!”
Clay invited the Daniel Island community and guests from all across the Charleston region to “come on down” to the Daniel Island Club for his performance on June 6. Tickets are on sale now for $10 each at Island Expressions and SunTrust Bank on Daniel Island. You can also obtain them by contacting Lee Ann Bain at email@example.com or (843) 822-5248. He will cut silhouettes for $42 each after the program and will also be available to sign copies of his books and CDs (cash or check only, no credit cards). Doors will open at 6:45 p.m.
Clay has spent the last several weeks traveling all across the country for silhouette cutting sessions and book signings. With his upcoming performance on Daniel Island just under a month away, perhaps the words written at the bottom of his famous “Charleston Bound” silhouette, depicting a man walking barefoot with a cane, offer us a glimpse into his thoughts on coming back to his beloved Lowcountry. “Don’t you fret now, please don’t frown. I’z headed home. I’z Charleston bound.”