← Images from grandma’s scrapbook
English silhouette cutter, Hubert Leslie (1890-1976). My Mum, Sharon, took this photo in 1975 when she visited his home with grandma.
Hubert was a friend of my artist mother, Margaret Norman. We lived on the other side of town from him. He made a beautiful scissor cut of and old Edwardian gentleman and his granddaughter for Mum, which has been passed down to me and hangs now in my hall. I recall our occasional visits to the Leslies. They were kind, gentle people and he a talented artist.
Thank you for sharing this! I saw some silhouettes of Hubert’s in the National Portrait Gallery not so long ago which were part of a temporary exhibition and remember thinking that I found his work so lovely and that it could have been so nice to meet him. You are lucky to have an original piece hanging in your hall and to have known him personally!
A grandson of Leslie lives in Edinburgh and he also has a few of the scissor cutter silhouettes again handed down in the family. I’d love to know more about him as I’m doing some research work for his grandson.
Hubert and his son Graham Leslie pulled together and published the Leslie Family History – I’m wondering if anyone knows of this book (a little black book) and where I might find it?
Hubert Leslie was also a friend of my mother and her parents. He attended Hillbrow Prep School in Rugby from 1900 to 1904. In 1923 my grandfather, William Scarth Dixon, took over as headmaster of this school, and shortly after that Leslie came to know my grandparents, as well as my 7-year old mother and 4-year old uncle Francis (after whom I’m named, and who sadly was shot down and killed a year before I was born). The reason for his visit to my grandfather’s school was that Leslie made a living not only from doing sihouettes on Brighton West Pier, but also by doing magic shows at prep schools, his own old school included. Today I met Charles Burns, who is making a film about the history of Silhouette-cutting, and was down in Brighton, where I live, to film the West Pier (now a wreck) and talk to a historian here. That prompted me to look on the web to see what more I could find myself, and I stumbled on your site. Back in 2007 Charles bought some of the original silhouettes I had of my grandparents, mother and uncle done around 1926, and we have stayed in touch since. Unfortunately I don’t remember ever having met Hubert Leslie, but I have quite a number of letters from him to my mother. Two of the silhouettes I sold Charles appear in his book, ‘Mastering Silhouettes’ on pages 13 and 62. I still have the backings of these and other Leslie silhouettes of my grandparents, as well as one original and signed top copy of my grandfather.
Thank you for getting in contact and for taking the time to relate your family’s connections with Hubert Leslie. I didn’t know he did magic shows at prep schools. Seems he was quite the entertainer! My grandmother Mary Lou Russell was friends with him during the five years that she lived in London during the 1970’s. My mother has a few photos that she took during dinner parties at his house and she has a silhouette of Mary Lou cut by Hubert Leslie and one she did of him on the same occasion.
I have worked with Charles frequently over the past 15 years since I started cutting silhouettes professionally and I have seen the silhouettes that he bought from you on display on the wall in his house. Perhaps these portraits will also feature in the film as well as the book?!
Good to hear from you. I had a feeling you would know Charles. Yes, you’re right, he has the pictures of my grandparents, my mother and my Uncle Francis on the wall in his front room. I’ve only been there once, which was when we delivered the silhouettes to him. We had retained them until the end of the exhibition, and then found a convenient opportunity to deliver them by car. This was a few years back now. Yes, Leslie was a great entertainer. If you haven’t read it, you should get hold of, and read his ‘Artful Art and Breathless Brainwaves’, published sometime after the war (but no date in the book); it’s available on Amazon. There are quite a number of references to Hillbrow, the school my grandfather (and then father) ran.
Wow! All this information is fascinating. I am sure his grandson will be really moved to know more about him. Zanzibar2012 is it possible to have a couple of scans of the letters from him to your Mum – even if just to see what his handwriting was and to see his signature? I didn’t know that he also did Magic Shows either. I’d love to make contact with this Charles Burns and pass on his details to Leslie’s grandson – I’m sure he would be most interested to discuss his grandfather. I wonder how we can do that from this website?
Needless to say my name is not Zanzibar2012, but I won’t go into the complications of how I had to use this pseudonym in order to post my comment. I’m not very computer literate, you see! Anyway my name if Francis Clark-Lowes and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to send me an email, I’ll send back some scans of Hubert Leslie’s letters. I suspect I wouldn’t be able to work out how to send them on this website.
Francis – you are a gem. Thank you. I wasn’t sure what the rules were with email addresses on this site – so sorry for being so hesitant. My email address is email@example.com – will send you an email now. Thank you.
The National Portrait Gallery has just launched a crowdsourcing project; we are asking for help in transcribing the signatures under each silhouette in Hubert Leslie’s record books. You can find more about this at http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/tell-us-more-about-our-silhouettes.php
Hubert Leslie kept meticulous records; he pasted a duplicate of each silhouette into a record book, and the sitter signed their names, and in some cases also their addresses underneath. Alongside the ten volumes of record books was a card index of all his sitters names, directing him to the correct page of the correct record book. This allowed him to produce duplicates instantly, even years after the original was cut.
In WW2, he took the patriotic decision to give up his card index for paper salvage, as part of the war effort. We are attempting to recreate this database digitally, so people can find their parents and grandparents portraits online. One of the loveliest things about the project is that suddenly, very ordinary people, who would never expect it, are going to discover they have a family portrait in the National Portrait Gallery. The sitters are from absolutely all classes, nationalities and social groups; it is incredibly inclusive. Transcribing a name is a random act of kindness; you know that it will make someone, somewhere, very happy indeed.
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