‘Visions of the Circus’ exhibition debuts at McDaniel

Courtesy of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Tibbals collection.
August 24, 2017

McDaniel College hosts “Visions of the Circus,” a major exhibition highlighting the cultural and historical significance of the circus during the early 20th century. Free and open to the public, the exhibition runs Aug. 24–Oct. 12 in McDaniel’s Rice Gallery, Peterson Hall. An opening reception is Aug. 31 from 5:30–7:30 p.m., with a gallery talk at 6 p.m. 

“Visions of the Circus” examines such themes as the mesmerized public; the rise of the big top; life behind-the-scenes; aerial, animal, clown and one-of-a-kind acts and sideshow performers as well as how the circus is depicted in art. 

Vintage black-and-white and color photographs, circus posters, original sideshow banners, circus performer costumes and sideshow collectibles are on display in addition to illustrations by American sculptor Alexander Calder. Materials are on loan from The Ringling, Whitney Museum of American Art, Circus World and Illinois State University.

Robert Lemieux, associate professor of Communication and Cinema at McDaniel, is curator for this premiere exhibition. He worked on the design with graduate students at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who were enrolled in exhibit design courses in spring 2016 and spring 2017, and received professional assistance from the National Gallery of Art. This is the third collaboration between Lemieux and the Corcoran on an exhibition at McDaniel. The other exhibitions were “Kings of the Pages: Comic Strips & Culture 1895–1950” in fall 2011 and “Beyond Words: The Artistry of Illustrated Children’s Books” in spring 2014.

“The inspiration for the circus stems from my interest in storytelling,” Lemieux said. “With its history and wide variety of characters, the circus has an unlimited number of stories. Our intent with the exhibit is to highlight both the stories and the cultural impact of this once great entertainment form.” 

Also in conjunction with the exhibition, “American Sideshow” author Marc Hartzman speaks on “The Allure of the Circus Sideshow: A Brief History” on Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. in McDaniel Lounge. The event is free and open to the public. 

“Visions of the Circus” is made possible with support from Donald and Patricia Lavin, the Carroll County Arts Council and the Department of Communication and Cinema at McDaniel College.

Rice Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., and Saturday, noon–5 p.m. For more information, call 410-857-2595. 

‘Visions of the Circus’ exhibition debuts at McDaniel
Clown (Lou Jacobs) and Performer (Oscar Cristiani) with a Big Cigar, August 12, 1941,
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Photo by Sverre O. Braathen. Courtesy of the Milner Library at Illinois State University.

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Fred Smythe, Sideshow manager, undated, Courtesy of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Tibbals collection.