circus circus


If this doesn’t happen now, it never will, as it’s been sitting in the cooker for almost three months and there are only 2 months left for this to be relevant, so, AHOY!


Banners by Toni-Lee Sangastiano for the Shelburne Museum.

As mentioned before, I work at a fine institution of eclectic collections, Shelburne Museum. We’ve got lots of loot but many of the gems are (historic) circus-related: loads of hundred-year-old original posters, Dentzel carousel animals, a scale circus parade with many hundreds of pieces as well as a miniature big-top scene, not to mention (swoon) the teeny carriage used by General Tom Thumb. The Golden Age of the circus, as illustrated in that amazing Taschen book, was 1870-1950. The real, deep dish gritty circus, as we didn’t know it, is dead, for many reasons (labor laws, animal welfare concerns, television). Thankfully there are boatloads of ephemera to whet the appetites of weirdos like me. This season at the Museum there is a special exhibition, Circus Day in America, which showcases many of our rarely seen posters of all flavors, photographs of parades and pitch cards of freaks, audio, video, olfactory sensations! Plus, the king of the freaks, my friend Patt Kelley, has some beeeeautiful interpretations of famous performers like Myrtle Corbin and Millie Christine, the Two-Headed Nightengale, plus two very charming and wonderful sculptures. Meet Jojo, stricken with hypertrichosis.


Patt covered him with hair clippings from his sweet wife.


Please look at Patt’s website. You can view scans of his collection of Freaky pitch cards here. He keeps them in a handsome little vitrine, and I got to look at every single one of them when I visited him recently. He whole heartedly loves this kind of history, and I don’t blame him. His work is really eclectic, but it’s really impressive how he has pursued this particular interest, and how he is able to parlay it into some really achingly beautiful work. Parasitic Twin is his comic and I recommend it!

Anyway. Here are Annie Howard and her hubby, whom I love, naturally.


Tattooed People! Freaky! Here is Patt’s version.


Myrtle Corbin:


We know that she was actually pretty miserable.


fairy sisters

Our intrepid and curious curator extraordinaire, Kory Rogers, wrote the accompanying catalog. I sent one to my tattoo artist Graham, and his favorite poster is BOVALAPUS.


I hate clowns so much that I love them. I like the bald cap.


From the book:

“Distinguished by their pasty complexions, whiteface clowns used greasepaint as a foundation on which to draw their facial features. Among the oldest type of circus clowns, ‘neat’ whitefaces like Billy Carroll and his brother limited the color palette of their makeup to red and black which they coordinated with their costumes. Whiteface clowns typically played the serious straight-man role in slapstick features.

On the other hand, ‘grotesque’ whiteface clowns are characterized by their thick, exaggerated facial features painted in a rainbow of colors. Grotesques played more lighthearted roles and dressed in garish outfits with big floppy shoes.”

One last super cool thing can be seen here. Several circus posters, over a hundred years old, were found in VT underneath siding on a freaking house. The posters have been restored and they are fabulous.

You probably can’t come to the lil ol Shelburne, but someday you should. Thank you.

Soon to come, Circus Circus Circus: random circus shit I’ve been collecting for the past year!


One Response to “circus circus”

  1. Yay!!!! I love it!!!! Consider me honored.
    PS- in response to your celebrity crush post, I used to have a crush on Daphne from Scooby Doo. Ah, sexy cartoons.

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