Arrest of an artist

Arrest of an Artist

WHILE IN AMERICA last year, filming for the documentary ‘Silhouette Secrets’, we visited Philadelphia to study a 200-year-old automatic silhouette-making machine. On the way my mind lapsed and I found myself driving on the wrong side of the road.

While in Philadelphia we had arranged to meet a friend of mine for a drink one evening, a local silhouette artist called Ted Stuessy. I had corresponded with Ted for some time, and liked the look of his work, but had never actually met him. I hadn’t realised, but learned to my surprise, that his day job is Chief of Police at the local New Jersey Police Department in Philadelphia. This was not at all what I expected. Stranger still, I discovered he had taught himself to cut silhouettes by studying the profile ‘mug shots’ routinely taken of arrested suspects. These photographs formed a ready library of subjects for him to practice on during breaks and have enabled him to refine his skill to a high degree. 

Charles Burns cuts a silhouette of Ted Stuessy after the Arrest of an Artist
Charles meets fellow silhouettist Ted Stuessy and cuts his silhouette, during filming of the “Arrest of an Artist” sequence

Silhouettes and handcuffs

This revelation caused the conversation to go in a bizarre direction and – I can’t quite recall why – we soon found ourselves speculating whether or not I would be able to cut a silhouette wearing a pair of handcuffs. Not the traditional cowboy-style cuffs, with a generous amount of chain, but the modern New-Jersey-Police kind which lock the wrists closely together and allow hardly any movement at all. I was convinced I could do this, but nobody else there believed me.

So Andi (the director) jokingly asked Ted if he would be kind enough to arrange for the arrest of an artist by NJPD the next day, so we could try it out. To our great surprise Ted answered “Sure, we could do that, what time is good for you?”

The result is this little 2-minute video.

I’ve really no idea if there’s any future for a silhouette-cutting-while-handcuffed act in the world of corporate entertainment, but then again you never really know. Stranger things have happened.

The silhouette cut with handcuffs
The arresting officer, cut with handcuffs

24 thoughts on “Arrest of an Artist”

  1. Cutting silhouettes requires great skill and technique but cutting profiles whilst being handcuffed is incredible! Very impressive Charles, you definitely have your work cut out for you not only as super silhouette artist but you should also consider profiling for the Met Police

  2. Great blog Charles as usual. I think there may be a call for a silhouette cut in challenging circumstances. I once met a professional golf coach who had a side line in hitting golf balls with anything that could be strapped to a golf club – the one I saw was an iron! He traveled all over the world demonstrating this rather unusual skill.

  3. Jonathan Fletcher

    I love this story – what an adventure! It’s fantastic how accommodating the NJPD were. Good sports! It didn’t look like the handcuffs impaired your silhouette cutting too much, bravo. Hopefully you won’t need to be tested in this way again, though. But good to know you have this skill up your sleeve 🙂

  4. Great post, and really interesting to hear about how Ted has practiced and honed his craft.

    I think there could definitely be potential for a silhouette-cutting-while-handcuffed act – maybe you could even take it further into silhouette escapology, Houdini style! Although your silhouettes might get slightly soggy underwater…


  5. Amusing to watch this again…now then Charles, I would like to see you attempt this with your hands behind your back next time! That would be an interesting challenge to keep you busy practising in 2016!

  6. the Lewis Family, London SW17

    My three daughters arranged for Charles to attend a surprise 60th for my wife and he did a superb job mingling among the guests to give every one of the seventy friends a silhouette to go home with. Definitely an original addition to the party and he then kindly sent us one big picture of everyone , which we have had framed.

  7. What I liked the most about your story is that you have chosen this profession with passion. The policeman in Philly did too. No wonder you are so good at it! you do it will all your ability, might and concentration… and especially passion.

  8. What an amazing story, made me laugh and read to end. Really funny coincidence made me and my hubby, who I read this to, laugh out loud. We’d love to hear you tell this story on “8 out of 10 cats”, “not the 9 o’clock news”, “Q1″… I can actually see you doing Alan Davies and others silhouettes while on the show, now that’d be unique and great entertainment. Brilliant story, thanks for sharing it with everyone x

    1. You’ve got me thinking about an underwater silhouette cutting experience. Perhaps if I cut the silhouettes from vinyl? Would I have to include the subjects mask and aqualung? Could be interesting…

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