A Pinhead for H.H.
Pen and ink, 9.5 x 7.5 inches, 1998
Collection of Samantha Hewit Fruchtman
The subject of this painting is based on a portrait by Hans
Holbein. However, the subject here is not some member of the
English court but rather a cheerful microcephalic, or "pinhead"
as they were known on the stage.
Pinheads were often favorite performers on the sideshow
circuit for their diminutive size, strange appearance, and child-like
manner. The tiny cranium was often accentuated by shaving the head
and leaving a small tuft of hair at the top — a look that was
later adopted by the character Bert on Sesame Street. Several pinheads
were featured as characters in director Tod Browning's infamous
film Freaks (1932). The most famous of these
performers was Schlitzie (born Simon Metts or Metz, 1901-1971), who worked on the sideshow platform
well into his seventies, though he was always referred to with the feminine pronoun. Schlitzie was described by those who worked with him as
an affectionate and sociable person who loved to be the center of attention.
This pinhead wears a charming rabbit-bedecked frock as an homage to the squirrel held by
the lady in the Hans Holbein painting.
All Images and Text © James G. Mundie 2003 - 2018