Félicien Trewey was born Félicien-François Trevey on May 23, 1848. He was a French variety artist who worked as a juggler, magician, mime, tightrope walker, musician, comedian, balancing artist, chapeaugraphist, and shadowgraphist. Trewey was also an amazing card thrower, a lightning sketch artist, and could write backwards and upside down.
Trewey’s father was a machinist and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, but this would never happen. At the age of seven, Trewey visited a circus in Marseille, France and saw a magician there. He went home and started practicing magic, juggling, puppetry, and balancing. He performed for family and friends as often as he could and steadily improved his skills. At the age of 15, he ran away with an acrobat friend and started his professional career. By the age of 17, he was performing at the Alcazar, a principal place for amusement in Marseille.
Eventually, Trewey became a star in Paris, where he performed for nine years before touring around Europe. In 1899, he made his debut in the United States. Trewey eventually retired at the height of his fame to live the life of a country gentleman, but he still practiced his amazing variety of skills for two hours every day in retirement. In addition to his life as a performer, he is also remembered as the person who first brought the motion picture to audiences in Paris and London, doing so in 1896. Trewey passed away on December 2, 1920.
Trewey’s Many Talents
Trewey initially found fame as a balancing artist, although we don’t know much detail about what objects he balanced. The one balancing act of his that we do know of is a version of the Birds in the Tree trick, which I have written a previous article about. In the trick, he balanced a T-shaped pole on his chin. On the cross bar were four cardboard birds, which he shot with a pea shooter / blow gun. When a bird was knocked over, a silk streamer would be released from underneath it.
As a juggler, Trewey was known for his work with a devil stick, wooden blocks, and plate waltzing. Below you can see some of his illustrations of his block tricks and a film of him doing plate waltzing.
The oldest known juggling catalog, the Catalogue Of Fine Juggler Goods Manufactured By Prof. Otto Maurer, which was published in New York City, NY (USA) in the late 1880s, contains an advertisement for Trewey’s Round Blocks, which you can see below. This was the first known example of cigar box-type props for sale.
He also performed a routine where he rolled a metal ring on a flat disc with a handle attached so that he could flip the disc while manipulating the ring.
As I stated earlier, Trewey performed magic, card throwing, mime, backward and upside down writing, very fast sketching, comedy, and tightrope walking. You can see a brief demonstration of his upside down and backward writing near the beginning of the following film.
By the end of his career, he was best known for his chapeaugraphy and shadowgraphy. The following film shows his work with chapeaugraphy, or hat imitations.
Much has been written about his talent for shadowgraphy, or hand shadows. It is with this skill that he probably gained his greatest fame. He even wrote a book on the subject titled The Art of Shadowography: How it is Done.
If you want to learn more about Trewey’s life and especially about his hand shadow work, you can find much more online.