Otho Barden: the Rock City Artist

OTHO BARDEN was an American artist who cut silhouettes during the summer season at the popular tourist attraction of Rock City at the top of Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He seems to have worked there for many years, probably from the opening of Rock City in 1932 until the early 1960s.

Which pronoun should I use?

Having looked into this, I decided to refer to this artist as “he”. However, I did once receive a correspondence stating that Otho Barden was a woman, being the daughter of her great grandmother’s half-brother, and that she’d married a man called Lockhart.

This is a tricky one to solve. I don’t want to contradict a family member, yet all the adverts I’ve seen (like the one illustrated below) clearly refer to “Mr. Barden”.  If anybody can shed more light on this I’d be very grateful!

Two silhouettes by Otho Barden, one with the Rock City stamp
Two silhouettes by Otho Barden, one with the Rock City stamp and another which may have been cut down to remove it

Cutting silhouettes on Lookout Mountain

Silhouettes of Ladies and Children by Otho Barden, Eminent Artist
An advertisement for a department-store appearance at Millers Bros Co in Rome, Georgia in January 1953. The text clearly refers to Mr. Barden!

It was claimed that from Lookout Mountain at Rock City you could see seven states. Sadly, this no longer seems possible (due to the effects of haze and air pollution) but this didn’t prevent tourist from flocking to the area. I believe they still do.

During the winter months, when Rock City closed, he set up a series of department store appearances all over the US which he advertised in the local press. This was the way many silhouette artists were working, both in the US and the UK, during the early twentieth century. 

Otho Barden silhouettes

His silhouettes are stylised and quite large, usually bearing a “Rock City” stamp, and mounted on 7″x 5″ cards. They sometimes have the shoulders turned towards the viewer, like the set of three below, and include inventive cuts to indicate collars and other clothing patterns.

Three silhouettes with stylised bodies, all facing left
A family group of undated Otho Barden silhouettes in his “turned shoulders” style.

Looking at the silhouettes I can imagine him working relatively slowly (for a silhouettist) and methodically, taking care over the various internal cuts. For some reason I imagine him as having quite large hands! I’ve always found that silhouettes cut at this scale usually take slightly longer to cut

Silhouettes of a couple with Otho Barden's stamp saying "Souvenir of Rock City"
A pair of face-to-face silhouettes cut by Otho Barden at Rock City, Georgia, probably in the early 1950s.

Further Information about Otho Barden

  • The 1940 US census lists Otho L. Barden as a man, age 37, living in Atlanta City, GA with his wife Mamie and mother-in-law Mattie. He was cutting silhouettes at least until 1960.

Searching for Otho Barden will reveal a number of his silhouettes for sale on various auction sites. However, they are usually undated.

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Julie Burton
Julie Burton
3 months ago

Hello Charles! I have silhouettes done by this artist of my brother who passed away at age 6. As you can imagine, it means a lot to me!

Carol White
Carol White
12 days ago

According to an article I found in the local paper, Otho Barden was a man. The Captain William Lytle Chapter D. A. R. has arranged to bring Otho Barden, noted silhouette cutter, to Murfreesboro for a three-day visit beginning on Thursday of this week. Miss Rebecca Jetton of the Lytle Chapter announces.

Mr. Barden has cut silhouettes for seventeen years. He was .at the Century of Progress for two years and during that time he estimates that he made 25,000 silhouettes’. He has appeared in thirty-seven states and in foreign countries and numbers among his works; studies of many famous people and former presidents.
The Daily News-Journal
Murfreesboro, Tennessee •
Tue, Jun 22, 1937
Page 3

Sharolyn Dunham
Sharolyn Dunham
6 days ago
Reply to  Charles Burns

I have 2 silhouettes from 1928 done by Otho!

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