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Born an Artist


Cindi Rose and some of the million-plus silhouettes she has created.

Cindi Rose and some of the million-plus silhouettes she has created.

Houstonian Cindi Rose is on the cutting edge of silhouette artistry

Text and photos by Mara Soloway

You’re either born an artist or not.” Renowned silhouette artist and native Houstonian Cindi Harwood Rose knew that she was at a very young age. “Around age 2, I picked up a pair of rounded scissors and etched a relief of a face into the yellow paint on the wall. As a child I was drawing portraits, nature and animals and painting in tempura,” she said. This early understanding of art principles and the consistent desire to create has continued throughout her life, leading to success in a unique art form. It helped that her mother, Doris Harwood, was an artist, architectural designer and paper-cutter.

She began papercutting shapes at 14, and at 16 she cut her first profile portrait. Soon Cindi started working at the art concession at Houston’s famed Astroworld, which was owned by Disney. Her sister Bonny answered an ad for a cashier and recommended Cindi be hired as a portrait artist. Her interview introduced her to what she saw as chauvinism in the art world. The interviewer demanded that she draw him, which she did. When he showed Cindi the work of one of the world’s few silhouette artists, who was working at the concession, she said, “I can do that.” He didn’t believe her and again demanded to see her create on the spot. She did. At least the man had some sense – he immediately fired the other artist, telling Cindi to begin working as his new silhouette artist the next day.

Cindi’s talent and proficiency at making silhouettes, portraits and watercolors led to bigger things. “I did so many at Astro­world,” she recalled. “Jess Rubio, the owner of the Astroworld and Disney art concessions,  flew me to Disneyland, and I did more silhouettes of the guests than the artist there. From then on this was my summer job and my Christmas job. When I finished college I went off to Disney World to cut silhouettes for one year, working 14-hour days five days a week.”

Cindi has strong opinions on what good art is versus what she refers to as chewing gum art. She doesn’t want to fit in with an art scene like the one she encountered when she double-majored and graduated with honors in art and journalism at the University of Texas at Austin in the 1970s. She found it too chauvinistic with too much emphasis on fitting in through drug use and sex. She refused to conform to that standard.

Cindi had graduated from Bellaire High School magna cum laude and had won many awards in art and poetry. It didn’t occur to her that she could apply to other schools for scholarships because she was already an employed artist. She ended up at UT because her parents insisted she pay for her college degree from her silhouette summer earnings. She would have preferred to go to a school the caliber of Parsons School of Art, NYU or Pratt. Cindi later studied sculpture at Glassell School of Art, ceramic art at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass and Impressionism oil painting in Paris, where she found encouragement and respect.

As a journalist, she was the society writer for Houston Magazine, and wrote freelance for the Houston Chronicle. She also won beauty contests that landed her with a modeling/acting agency. She modeled for Mary Anne Duffey and Neal Hammil, and starred on Fox Houston TV on the comedy Captain Harold’s Theater of the Sky and a weekly exercise program. Cindi also had speaking parts in movies and in national commercials, earned her SAG-AFTRA card, and starred in dinner theater plays.

When she was 26, she took ownership of the art concession at Astroworld until she married at 32. “That was a big milestone for me at that age. I had 40 employees. I supported myself and owned my house when I met my husband.”

Cindi married her husband, plastic surgeon Franklin Rose M.D., in 1982. They have two children, Erica and Ben,  and two grandchildren. She took several years off from cutting silhouettes to raise her children, work for area charities and continue her writing career, although she did cut silhouettes here and there.

During this period, Cindi’s late sister Holly, who had also inherited her mother’s art talents and was a silhouette artist,  developed stage 4 breast cancer. While Holly was still alive, Cindi and Franklin created The Holly Rose Ribbon Foundation in 2005. The nonprofit provides free reconstructive surgery to post-breast cancer patients and scholarship funds for students who have a lost a parent to cancer. Cindi raises funds through silhouette-making events; Franklin provides the reconstructions. They also cheer patients at Texas Children’s Hospital and provide scholarships to children who lost a parent to cancer for higher education or a specialty career. Holly passed away in 2012.

Cindi found making silhouettes for the foundation to be healing and restarted her  silhouette career again in 2010. She has calculated that she has made her intricate paper cutouts for more than one million people in the 40 total years she has made them. Silhouette portraiture is an ages-old art form of cutting a profile on black paper. The more talented the silhouette artist, the more the persona is shown. Cindi approaches each silhouette with her artist’s intuition. No mass of dreadlocks, curls or long beard intimidates her. One of her signature elements is the cutting of interior detail – an earring, shadows in the hair, folds of clothing. She also has a flair for eyelashes.

“If you think about it, it’s a contour drawing – it’s like drawing a portrait. You have to be able to put their personality and soul in it,” Cindi said. “I want them to have movement, to have texture. Putting the details inside makes them come alive.”

She pays intense attention to detail to both the silhouette and the materials that create the final framed product, using only top-quality silhouette paper, acid-free linen paper to adhere it to and oval frames. She often cuts one silhouette and after examination does a second to refine it. Each portrait takes from 12 seconds to a minute, with her record being 144 an hour. At most events she can create 30-plus an hour, and more if she has an assistant paste them to the background paper. She’s conceived of a charming idea for a wedding: she cuts two copies, one of which goes in a guest book for guests to write a special message.

Among the celebrities Cindi has met in person and made a silhouette for are: Queen Elizabeth, Ashley Judd, Dr. Phil, Lisa Ling, Zac Posen, Elvis Presley, Barbara Bush, Mohammed Ali, Tony Bennett and Sarah, Duchess of York. Among the entities that have invited her to make silhouettes at meetings, stores and offices are St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, Cirque du Soleil, Mac Cosmetics, The Museum of New York, The Museum of San Diego, Hermes, Dolce and Gabbana and Google. Even a motorcycle gang hired her.

While her silhouette artistry brings her the most acclaim, Cindi is an artist in other media, making some of her clothing and jewelry to help people see her as she is – an artist. Her home is filled with her other art – paintings, pottery, sculpture – each a reflection of where she was in life when she created them.

“When you put art in a house it becomes your home,” Cindi said. “It’s a nice house but I’ve made it my home.”

Her work as an artist keeps her in touch with those close to her, such as the artists that worked for her at Astroworld. She’s reconnecting with friends of her daughter, sisters and nieces, who want silhouettes of their young children.

Is it difficult to cut out soulful profiles of so many people after first meeting them?  “I’m creative in everything I do. It’s really worse to not be creative – to be an artist and have to fit in a box. That’s why I’m happy doing silhouettes – I can be myself,” she said.

“I feel like this is what God wanted me to do. All those years I raised my children I was happy because I was meant to nurture. Now people ask what do I do for fun – I work for fun.”

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To see more of her work, visit Cindi’s social media accounts (Instagram, Facebook and YouTube) along with her websites

Silh­ou­ettesbyCindi.com and SilhouettesforSurvivors.org.

An example of Cindi’s intricate cut-out work.

An example of Cindi’s intricate cut-out work.

Heart On (acrylic and mixed media).

Heart On (acrylic and mixed media).

Polynesian Dreaming (oil on canvas).

Polynesian Dreaming (oil on canvas).

Cindi-Rose-art Cindi-Rose-The-Rose-Wreath

Caption for two above photos: The entryway of Cindi’s home displays her bronze of The Rose Wreath (close-up below), bronze of Mother and Child and oil painting of My Internal Inferno. (Another artist created the image on the upper left.)  Cindi did all the welding, casting, spewing investing and clay work for her bronze sculptures.
(R) People Pot – The Mind Grid (hand-formed kiln-fired pottery).

(R) People Pot – The Mind Grid (hand-formed kiln-fired pottery).

Even pets get their silhouettes done.

Even pets get their silhouettes done.

Even pets get their silhouettes done, as did Sarah, Duchess of York (second from left

Sarah, Duchess of York (second from left).

Native American Dance (oil on canvas).

Native American Dance (oil on canvas).

 

Born an Artist


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