OCTOBER 24, 2009-FEBRUARY 14, 2010
KATHLEEN AND CURTIS GUNN GALLERY
They came from every corner of the world—some were born into it, others ran away to join it—but no matter the reason, they became circus folk, a family creating magic in a traveling tent show. It is a life lived dangerously, humorously, but most importantly, together. From promoters to performers to roustabouts, Circus Folk unravels the secrets from behind the big top and is drawn from the Witte’s famous Hertzberg Circus Collection, one of the largest and most impressive collections of circus art and artifacts in the world.
Categorized into four sections, this exhibit takes visitors through every aspect of creating these traveling spectacles. The first section, Life in a Traveling Village, focuses on their life on the road. Circus Folk live their lives for the next performance on the tour, and traveled as a group by train, truck and motor home—creating a mobile village complete with places to eat, sleep and work.
The second section, The Circus Family, delves into their special ties that are a complex blend of business, love and family relationships. The business partnership between P. T. Barnum and Tom Thumb became a lifelong friendship that saved Barnum from financial ruin. Alfredo Codona and Lillian Leitzel had a passionate love affair that ended tragically when she died while performing. Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins, never spent a day apart. The circus family is like no other.
The circus village is a physical place. In the third section, Getting Physical, visitors learn that athleticism and strength are required in all areas of the circus—from a roustabout using an elephant to put up tents as large as football stadiums, a great athlete on a trapeze, and a performer using their body to defy dangerous feats, to clowns filling the arena with physical antics and animal trainers using physical skills to control elephants and tigers.
Finally, Circus Folk have rules, customs and beliefs—in and out of the ring. The fourth section, Rules of the Ring, explains the rules for work, play and travel. Rules are highly respected and apply to everyone from the circus stars and managers at the top to the cage cleaners at the bottom. Everyone has a place and knows the rules of their position, making the circus village function smoothly.