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by Mary Dickinson
November 17, 2005
At the Circus Museum in Sarasota, it was pleasant to learn what was involved in making all that happen. It was beneficial to have Ann, a volunteer, guide us through the museum and explain everything. She directed us to a layout of the winter quarters in Sarasota, and explained how the city, under tents, would be set up during the off season. My mother lived next to the winter quarters when they were in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and told us the same stories.
There was a display showing the big, baggy, dirty, patched suit worn by the greatest circus clown ever, Emmet Kelly, including his famous red nose and how he made up his clown face. Ann told us he was a good friend of Red Skelton, who adopted many of Kelly’s techniques in his act when portraying Freddie Freeloader. Two tiny cars, about big enough for a four-year-old child, were used by a 6' 2" clown who would get in one to the delight and amazement of a cheering audience. It was an enormous feat and exceptionally hard to accomplish.
Other clowns were remembered with funny head displays and clothes. Extravagant costumes, worn by trapeze artists, again reminded me of how much I wanted to wear one and swing from a flying trapeze when I was a child.
Circus music, most familiar to circus crowds, came from a steam organ, called a calliope, that was on display with all of its trimmings. Ann explained some of the elaborate red-and-gold wagons that were everywhere, pointing out the five graces painted on the side of one famous, extravagant wagon.
A very instructive model of a complete three ring circus was constantly in motion, showing dancing horses in the first ring, a lion tamer in a cage in the middle ring, and the trapeze artists performing in the third ring. Other acts were going on between each ring. Seventy people were required for a full performance. It certainly was the "Greatest Show on Earth."
From journal Three Ringling Circus
We were told to first visit the Ca d’Zan, Ringling’s home, when we purchased our tickets inside the building. We had noticed that the trams were driving guests around the complex, so we visited the home and then returned to the museum later. It's really difficult not to spend too much time in the gift shop. A guided tour was in progress, but we decided to go on our own because it was getting late and there was so much to see.
Starting in the galleries to the north, the oldest paintings and works of art were set up according to their country of origin. We were confronted with five ceiling-to-floor, wall-to-wall, oil on canvas paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, known as the The Triumph of the Eucharist. I thought they might be copies but the guard assured me they were originals. Each room is set up with large plaques that tell about the artist and explain what you’re viewing. The lucky people in Sarasota, and all of Florida, have access to a museum that is equal to an art appreciation course in most colleges—only here you’re not just talking and reading about it, you’re seeing it first-hand.
In the next gallery, I immediately notice two wall-to-wall plaques by Andre Della Robia which were certainly not inexpensive acquisitions. John Ringling, and his wife Mable, had collected all the items on display and put up that huge building to house them. He had the kind of money and influence to assure the collections were of museum quality. Although his was the top circus performance in the country at that time, he dedicated much of his time, talent, and money to those collections and then willed his entire estate to the State of Florida with the stipulation that none of it could ever be traded or sold.
We continued touring the north galleries and then crossed the bridge to the south galleries. A special collection by photographer Ansel Adams was on display. Again, it was beautifully done and the presentation was excellent. It is a must-see for aspiring photographers, and there’s a lot more in the south section of the museum. The courtyard, a loggia on three sides and a bridge on the forth, has a full size replica of Michelangelo’s David, and there’s a formal garden filled with works of art.
July 17, 2005
All of the Ringlings' art is housed in a roughly U-shaped building painted a shade of pink that only Floridians could find attractive. In the middle of the U are gardens and statues, with little paths you can use to cross from one wing of the museum to the other. The brochures promise works by the likes of Van Dyck, Hals, and Rubens, and sure enough, all these artists are represented in the collection. However, upon entering the galleries and having a look around, it slowly dawns on you that the Ringlings did not have very good taste in art. They surely had a lot of it, and the sheer quantity meant that they chanced upon the work of a few masters, but for the most part, the paintings and tapestries are the creations of artists that are unknown for a reason. In some paintings, there are smudges, and parts are crooked; in others, the proportions aren't quite right, and the ones that succeed visually are usually uninteresting--just the same generic battle scenes, but with different generals and different backdrops.
Hopefully this is not the premier art museum in Florida, as the brochures claim. The museum of art is worth a visit simply because it is included in your ticket and some of the paintings are pretty, but don't expect to be dazzled by the works of European masters, and don't buy a ticket to the estate just to see the museum.
From journal Sarasota: The Domain of the Old
April 4, 2005
Cà d'Zan, built in the Venetian Gothic style (with some Renaissance and baroque elements) on the Gulf shore looks awesome! The view of front façade resembles the Doge’s palace in Venice.
Terra cotta balustrades enclose the huge marble terrace overlooking Sarasota Bay; I still remember the red barrel tiles on the roof. Inside the mansion, arched windows and other decorative details remind you that the palace was built in the Venetian Renaissance style. You will see the Steinway grand piano, the 17th-century Flemish and English tapestries, painting. John Ringling's bedroom furniture was crafted by Antoine Krieger, the finest furniture maker in Paris from the 1820s to 1850s, while Mable's was by Francois Linke, one of the most celebrated cabinetmakers of the 19th century.
Some furnishings were acquired from other estates, including those of the Astors and Goulds, and reflect Italian and French Renaissance influence and the styles of Louis XIV, XV and XVI of France. On the ballroom and playroom ceilings visitors can see several scenes in which the Ringlings appear in Venetian Carnival costumes.
On the estate grounds near the mansion stands the historic Asolo Theater. It was built in Scotland in the end if the 18th century as an opera house. Then the Baroque theater was moved to the Asolo Castle in Italy, hence the name. Eventually, the state of Florida purchased it and shipped across the Atlantic. The theater is used for special programs, such as lectures and films. Unfortunately Asolo Theater was closed during our visit. The Banyan Café comes handy after several hours spent in the estate (the banyan trees came here as a gift from Thomas Edison who had an estate nearby, in Fort Myers).
From journal Treasure Of The Gulf Coast
Take a trip back in time as you stroll through 21 galleries of this world-class museum (allow 4 hours, at least). Housed in a pink U-shaped Italian Renaissance villa, Ringling Museum is filled with more than 500 years of European and American art. The collection contains now over 10,000 objects, including paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts objects. The Old Master collection (over 750 paintings) includes five world-renowned tapestry cartoons by Peter Paul Rubens – those are actually giant paintings, 14 by 19 feet. Visitors can see also paintings by Cranach, Poussin, Hals, Van Dyck, Pietro da Cortona , and others. You can easily spend a day exploring the treasures. The use of photography (cameras, video) is permitted without a flash indoors and freely outdoors.
A gallery of 91 antique Italian columns of various styles surrounds the courtyard. Some of the columns date from the 11th century. Inside the courtyard, you will find a sculpture garden (copies of the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses), with the West Galleries dominating one end of the courtyard. John Ringling hand-selected over 50 bronze sculptures, cast from originals in European museums such as the Vatican in Rome and the Louvre in Paris.
In the Circus Museum, you can watch the 45-minute television show about circus, costumes clowns, etc., and see some circus memorabilia, including parade wagons, costumes, calliopes, and colorful posters. But there are the wonderful estate grounds too, including the Rose garden and the Dwarf garden. And the view of the Sarasota Bay is breathtaking.
Museum open 7 days a week, 10am – 5:30pm; Estate grounds open until 6pm
Admission: Adults: $15
Seniors (65+): $12
Children 12 and under: Free with adult
Florida Students: Free with ID
Florida Teachers: Free with ID
Admission is free on Mondays to the Museum of Art only.
Admission to the Cà d’Zan public tour and Circus Museum is only $10 on Mondays.
June 1, 2004
From journal Florida Gulf Coast
July 9, 2003
This is a must see attraction during your visit to Sarasota. There are several attractions in this one spot. The Art Museum, the Circus Museum, the house "Cà d'Zan" (house of John), the gardens, the shop, and the little Gazebo Restaurant.
From journal Sarasota, Florida
May 25, 2003
From journal Sarasota Sojourn