Clay Rice has been cutting silhouettes since he was little. Today the artist—and author—travels the country, delighting customers with his talents as his famous grandfather, Carew Rice, once did. His incredible silhouette landscapes have been sought after by collectors worldwide, and he is the recipient of Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and the IPPY Award for Children’s Book of the Year. We’ve asked him to share with us the story behind his most recent book, The Stick, which has just been released this September.
Tell us a bit about your family and your career.
My grandfather, Carew Rice, started the art of silhouette cutting in 1930 when he picked up a pair of general purpose scissors for a quarter at the dime store. Immediately afterwards, he came home and cut out the silhouette of a blue jay and a squirrel—he had such a knack for it from the very beginning! He started cutting profiles of people shortly thereafter and it very quickly became his profession. That same pair of scissors would take him all over the world.
When did you begin to develop your incredible talent for writing and silhouette art?
My grandfather showed me how to cut out simple shapes—like barnyard animals—when I was six years old. From there I started to create more detailed landscapes, scenes, and profiles.
When I was a teenager I learned how to play guitar. I decided that I wanted to be a songwriter, so I moved to Nashville. It was there that I learned how to write a good song. The only problem was that I never really liked the sound that was coming out of that area at the time, so I decided to go home and write about where I was from instead. I learned to write stories when I learned to write songs. The formula is the same; I simply elaborate when I’m creating a story.
What was your inspiration for The Stick and what do you hope people, young and old, will take away from the story?
I wanted my readers to forget about all of the technology that surrounds them these days. I want to take them back to the most basic form of entertainment available to them: their imaginations. The more you use your imagination, the powerful it becomes. When I was a boy, we played with sticks because that was all we had. I grew up in a very modest family. My mom was a school teacher, divorced, with two kids, needless to say we were not sitting on easy street. As a result, one of my most formidable traits is that I’m not afraid to work or to use my imagination. My mom taught us early on that if we could do work hard and use our imaginations, we could do anything.
In this book, the stick is passed on to a young girl by an old man. This serves as a symbolic passing of the torch. We need to teach our children what's most important. Books like this one are timeless, because I'm not using elements that weren’t here five-hundred years ago or won’t be here five-hundred years from now. I want my books to be as relevant to my grandchildren as they are now.
You’ve done a lot of generational silhouette art. How has your talent brought families together?
That’s a good question. The more I create, the more I see how art brings families together. There are people who, between my grandfather and myself, have been getting their fourth and fifth generational silhouettes done. There was a lady who came to see me not long ago in Florence, South Carolina. The work I did for her was fifth generational, which was so special for her. To have such a special connection with her family is a great thing for me. Another lady has been coming to see me for eighteen years in a row. I have literally watched her grow up from a baby. I don’t know of any other art form where you can make such personal connection with people and their families.
Is there anything else you’d like to like to add?
Come and see me wherever I am! I’m all over the country. If you ever want to know where I’ll be, just check out my Facebook page or send me a message.