Yesterday we visited the Ringling Museum of Art. The museum is located on the site of the home of John and Mabel Ringling, Ca' D' Zan, House of John. It's designed in the Venetian Gothic style of the palazzos that ring the Venice canals. The estate also includes an extensive rose garden, other gardens, and lots of Italian statuary on 66 acres located right on Sarasota Bay. It was built under the watchful eye of Mabel Ringling in the mid-20's. The mansion is 56 room and some 36,000 sq. ft. It cost about $1.5 million to build. It was completed in 1929 three years before Mabel died. Ringling suffered greatly as many did during the early years of the Great Depression and was nearly broke by the time of his death. When John Ringling died in December 1936, he gave his estate to the people of Florida, but legal wrangling with his creditors went on for a decade until the property finally passed unencumbered to the state. During this time Ca’ d’Zan remained closed. Finally, in 1946 it was reopened to the public. After being closed in 1996 because it had deteriorated due to neglect, it was reopened in 2002 after a major renovation was completed.
We toured the first floor of the mansion which is included in the admission fee, but were not able to see the second floor. Second floor tours are extra cost and need to be scheduled. They were sold out. The crowds today were unbelievable. We had to park about a half mile from the museum because the regular parking lot was full. The cold weather must have kept all of the old people off the beaches. The mansion is representative of those built in the early part of the 20th century by various American tycoons that we've visited around the country. Furniture and art were collected from Italy and brought to Florida to decorate the Ringling summer home.
We also visited the Ringling Museum of the American Circus, not started by John Ringling, but by the first director of the Ringling Museum, Chick Austin. The museum contains examples of performers’ wardrobes, performing props, as well as all types of equipment, including a couple of carved parade wagons, tent poles, massive bail rings that suspended the tent canvas and even a cannon mounted on a truck that shot the human cannon balls across the big top. There is also a great collection of 19th and early 20th century posters and props used by famous performers as well as a collection of circus history and literature that includes newspaper clippings dating as far back as 1816. The museum is also the home of the restored Wisconsin, the railroad car on which John and Mable Ringling traveled across the country looking for feature acts to keep audiences filling the seats of the big top. There was a display focusing on the Cecile B. DeMille movie, The Greatest Show on Earth, including the model train used in the train reck scene in the movie.
The most amazing part of the museum was the 3,800 square foot Howard Bros. Circus Model, a 44,000-piece re-creation of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus combined shows from 1919-1938. It's a ¾-inch-to-the-foot scale replica built by Howard Tibbals. He started working on the model in 1956 and much of it was completed by 1974. It premiered at the 1982 Worlds Fair in Knoxville, TN. In 2004, Tibbals set up the Circus at in the Ringling Estate's Tibbals Learning Center, which includes a full-scale replica of Tibbals's workshop. It took Tibbals over one year to set up the circus in its current location. Tibbals wanted to use the Ringling name for the circus, but when he asked Ringling management they refused so he used his first name and thus was born the Howard Bros. Circus.
In the entrance to the Tibbals Center is "The Greatest Show on Earth", a 924-square-foot mural depicting the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® show of the 1970s and 80s. It was donated by the Feld family and Feld Entertainment Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. The work salutes feature acts such as aerialist Dolly Jacobs, her father, master clown Lou Jacobs, and the celebrated animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams. I posted a panoramic picture with a collage of some of the details of the mural.
We got home so late from the museum that i couldn't process and post the pictures last night. There are a ton, but they don' really do the Museum justice. If you ever get to Sarasota, The Ringling is a must see.