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SHADOWGRAPHY (also refered to as "OMBROMANIE")

Shadowgraphy, the art of using the hands (and sometimes certain props) to form figures onto a blank screen can be traced back to the middle of the 18th Century, although the idea seems to be a lot older, and can be traced back to the shadow puppets of Indonesia circa 850 AD and in China during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907).

The art was introduced to Europe by travelers returning back from China, who had seen the Chinese puppet theatre shows. The first "ombres chinoises" were presented in Paris in 1776 by Dominique Séraphin. The show was moved to Versailles in 1781. The tradition continued in Paris with the cabaret "Chat Noir" producing shows of "ombres chinoises" "(Chinese shadows") with up to twenty assistants.

It is important to note that these shadows were created by the use of two-dimensional cut-out "puppets" made from various materials. The shadows were rarely created by the hands alone.

In modern times the art of "ombromanie" (using only the hands as a medium to create the shadow) was made popular by Félicien Trewey (real name Félicien-François TREVEY) (b. Angoulême 23rd May 1848 d. Asnières, 2nd December 1920).

At the age of fifteen Trewey ran away from home to become a magician and tight rope walker. Trewey popularised the art of shadowgraphy by making silhouettes of famous personalities with his hands. In 1889 he joined Alexander Herrmann in New York. After that many magicians began to imitate his "Shadowgraphy".

During his career as a magician and vaudville performer, Trewey performed all over Europe and often in London. After the building of a one thousand seater theatre at the Regent Street Polytechnic (the first Polytechnic in Britain), Trewey bought the Lumiere brothers to this stage for the first presentation of Cinematograph before a paying audience (an outrageous one shilling per person) on 20th February 1896.

There is of course a strong connection between magicians, shadows and the first cinema shows; cinema at the time was considered an extension of many of the illusions performed on stage.

Trewey also performed a Chapeaugraphy act and features in a short film by Louis Lumiere from 1895 called "Chapeaux a Transformations".

Trewey wrote a 16 page booklet which was published in the year of his death "The Art of Shadowgraphy - How it is done" (pub. Jordison, London).

Around the same time as Trewey, David Devant and Edward Victor (cf. "Edward Victor's Hands" by Rae Hammond) were also performing Shadowgraphy in their acts.

It would appear that Alexander Herrmann learnt Shadowgraphy from watchng the performances of Trewey. It would then follow that David Tobias Bamberg (father of "Okito") learnt from Alexander Herrmann. David Tobias Bamberg then passed this down to his son, and "Okito" (David Tobias "Theodore" Bamberg) then passed it down to his son "Fu Manchu". "Okito" toured with the Thurston show as a shadowgrapher for many years. "Fu Manchu" likewise featured shadowgraphy in his act for many years.

Max Holden (William Holden Maxwell) (b. Boston Mass.of Scottish parents, 1884 d. 1949) featured Shadowgraphy in his performances in the duo "Holden and Graham" - Max Holden and Miss Graham (his assistant wife).
Holden was famous for his shadow "Monkey in the Bellfry"
He left the stage in 1929 to open up a magic business in Manhattan - the famous "Max Holden Magic Shop". Max Holden was also the author of the book "Programmes of Famous Magicians" (pub. New York 1937).

A book published in 1859 by Henry Bursill entitled "Hand Shadows to be thrown upon the wall" contains numerous animals and humans each with their own careful illustration. In the words of the auhtor "I have drawn the due position of the fingers with such care, that the most difficult subject may be accomplished after a few minutes; nor need ingenious youth or parental fondness confine their endeavours to the sketches contained in this book"

An extensive chapter on Hand Shadows may be read in the book "Home Fun" by Cecil H. Bullivant (pub. 1910).


Félicien Trewey
David Devant
Edward Victor
Alexander Herrmann
David Tobias "Theodore" Bamberg
Fu Manchu
Max Holden
Henry Bursill

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