The Profiles of the Past initiative is focused on British portrait silhouette history, telling a story that has developed over the last 250 years and which is still a rich and intriguing part of life today. With assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project is being developed by The Brunswick Town Charitable Trust and The Regency Town House Heritage Centre, who are co-operating with members of the Silhouette Collectors Club.


Our project began with a period of intense research, involving silhouette experts, to arrive at a definitive list of objects and records that tell the story of the silhouette in Great Britain. We are also specifically exploring Brighton’s silhouette heritage; the trade catering to fashionable visitors and the growing number of silhouette booths that helped ordinary people to capture the memory of their day at the seaside.

As the project develops, leading historians will work with us to contextualise silhouette history in relation to themes such as: costume, family and home, social history, colonialism, conflict and war.

We are grateful to the individuals and organiations assisting the Profiles research project. Amongst them:

Heritage Lottery Fund
Silhouette Collectors Club
University of Brighton, 'Silhouette Research Group'
University of Brighton, Alumni Association
Charles Burns, silhouette artist
Professor Lou Taylor, international authority on dress history
e-j Scott
Mrs Marion May, dress collector


The Profiles of the Past website and online gallery provides a permanent home for a definitive virtual silhouette collection and the research materials gathered during the course of the project. It includes a powerful search engine and learning resources, as well as online games for younger visitors.

The website also offers members of the public the means to upload images and data about silhouettes that they own, so as to expand the online collection and capture these most hidden of silhouette treasures, family portraits.


Between 1 August and 14 September 2014, we are staging a silhouette exhibition at our heritage centre in Brighton. We are also going to be staging a series of travelling exhibitions at other locations with a strong silhouette heritage. The dates and locations for these will be announced, on this website, shortly.

During the exhibitions, we will bring together profile portraits of unparalleled quality and scope to tell the story of the silhouette - the makers, the sitters and the techniques employed; the silhouette as an object for the masses: a souvenir of a visit, a memento of a partner or a reminder of a parting.

Our summer exhibition will also offer:

  • A silhouette-cutter demonstrating traditional techniques of the craft
  • Workshops to teach visitors how to make silhouettes
  • Seminars that explore the history of the silhouette
  • A number of traditional silhouette machines, for use by both children and adult visitors.


We will work with RNIB and Blind Veterans UK to develop techniques for making the best tactile images of silhouettes, for exhibition and download from our website.

Blind and partially sighted visitors will be able to access the exhibitions using tactile images, Braille notes and large print text. We will adapt our digital silhouette machine to enable blind veterans to produce tactile images of themselves and their friends. Deaf and hearing-impaired visitors will be supported with transcripts and captioning of the exhibition video and online content.

This website is built, at minimum, to the W3C ‘AA’ accessibility standard.


All of this activity provides volunteers with thousands of hours of training and participation in archival research, designing exhibitions, heritage project management and web design and production. The photograph to the left shows some of those who have received training while working on aspects of the Profiles project.

If you would like to get involved, or if you would just like further information about the project, please contact Nick Tyson via: +44 (0) 1273 206306 / nick@rth.org.uk  www.rth.org.uk

Meet our volunteer team

A huge number of people have given their time and expertise to make possible the delivery of the material on this website. Some of our volunteers are listed here.