SILHOUETTES CAN BE powerful. They can create a sense of mystery. The interior of a silhouette is featureless, with the silhouetted object usually black — hence, the silhouette does not convey a clear story. It leaves part of the image up to the imagination of the viewer.

Washaway Beach: How a community stood together and refused to be swept out to sea

The word “silhouette” traces back to mid-18th-century French finance minister Étienne de Silhouette, who made many of these images. He was perceived as a penny-pincher, and so, because these images were inexpensive compared to traditional portraits, this art form was named after him. In America, silhouettes were highly popular from about 1790 to 1840. The invention of the camera signaled the end of the silhouette as a widespread form of portraiture. However, their popularity has been reborn in a new generation of people, including North Cove cranberry farmer Connie Allen.

Allen has been an avid fundraiser to save Washaway Beach in Southwest Washington. Most of the money she has raised has gone into materials needed by our local construction crew, but a portion was set aside for the creation of four large metal silhouettes. The idea came to her to counteract the posted “Danger” signs on our beach with something more fun and positive. Allen’s vision was a set of symbols “to show that people care.”

Always seeking ways to educate visitors and gather information about coastal changes, Allen partnered with the app mycoast.org, which is used to collect information on beach change and the impact of nearshore hazards in order to enhance awareness. An opening was engineered into the silhouettes’ design so people can take a cellphone photo of the exact shot but at different times and in varying weather conditions. (Instructions are placed at each site.)

George Kaminsky of the Department of Ecology calls this concept “citizen science.”

Allen also had the idea of using North Cove residents as models for the silhouettes. Two of the statues are in place, and two are in the works. I am the subject of the third, yet-unfinished piece.

Like the use of small rocks, dune grass and driftwood, these silhouetted structures enhance the coastal beauty of North Cove while performing an important function in saving our beach.