A February 2005 trip
to Sarasota by Mary Dickinson
Quote: When you visit the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and their home and estate in Sarasota, Florida, you step into a world of high society, money, and heartbreak, and the circus world and collector's world of art besides.
Restaurant | "The Banyan Cafe"
Although the building looked quite natural with the other structures nearby, it was fairly new and not there when the Ringlings inhabited the estate. We could have had our lunch on the screened in veranda but I wanted to be seated inside. The interior was glassed in and warmer. The restaurant will seat 155 people. Little round tables covered with Venetian tablecloths and Art Deco chairs gave the informal building a dressed up appearance.
The lunch menu was kept simple with hot soups, sandwiches, salads and desserts. Bob ordered a classic Reuben for $8 and I ordered a roast beef sandwich, also only $8. While we were waiting, I ordered a cup of cappuccino, $3, and Bob had a diet Coke, $1. My sandwich had a choice of toppings: cheese, lettuce, tomato, or onion, and a bread choice of white, wheat, marble rye, or a Kaiser roll. I choose tomato with white bread. The sandwiches were delicious, but seem to be created for people who were on a very strict diet, as were the drinks.
Although it is exciting to have lunch there, I prefer restaurants that serve more for the money, especially if I’m hungry. There were other little cafes on the premises but they had about the same menu. That restaurant was quite full when we arrived, we had to wait a long time to be seated, and then a long time for our food. It would make more sense to eat somewhere before we arrived, or bring a lunch and eat in our car. That way, we could stop at the Banyan Cafe for a much needed break, to rest our legs, after going through the museum.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on November 17, 2005
5401 BayShore Road
Sarasota, Florida 34231
Attraction | "John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art"
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.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 17, 2005
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
5401 Bay Shore Road
Sarasota, Florida 34243
Attraction | "The Circus Museum"
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."
Attraction | "Ca d'Zan"
To get a good photograph, Bob walked up the sidewalk in front of the house between two elegant rows of palm trees. Molded stone statues, copied from Italian works, graced a flower garden nearby. Volunteers drive the constantly moving trams and, when all the people arrived who were scheduled to take the 11:30am house tour, the hostess invited us to go inside.
We entered through a side entry hall, and while we waited for our tour guide, the hostess told us about John and Mable Ringling. John came from a family of seven brothers and one sister, most of them involved in the Barnum and Bailey and Ringling Brothers Circus. John was the advance man, a job that brought him in contact with many wealthy and influential people. Although the circus was his prime interest, he was so successful that he was able to invest in many other industries that were creating American millionaires in the early part of the 20th century.
He eventually found an opportunity to invest in a land development in Sarasota, and he even relocated the circus there in the winter months when they weren’t on tour. He left his entire estate to the people of Florida, and it is now part of Florida State University.
John and Mable decorated the interior from items selected from auctions of grand old estates that were breaking up, and from their many trips to Europe, especially Venice. The foyer was a grand hall that sometimes was used as a dining hall for big dinner parties. The ball room was separated from it by a slight architectural feature; it could be used as one big open space. The second floor cantilevered over the foyer, and the ceiling in the ballroom followed the slanted roofline. The mansion had 32 rooms, but only a few were open to the public. Through the Venetian-pointed arched windows, we could see Sarasota Bay and Long Boat Key in the distance.
Pictures, without flash, were allowed.
Cà d' Zan Mansion
5401 Bay Shore Road
Sarasota, Florida 34243