SARASOTA, Fla. – Jan. 09, 2009 -- The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art will open its newest addition, the Wisconsin, the Ringlings’ private railroad car, which has been undergoing a three-year restoration.
The Wisconsin will be opened at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a select audience on
January 22, 2009. It will open to the public on January 23, 2009. The railroad car adds to the legacy of the Museum’s founders, John and Mable Ringling, giving visitors a greater understanding of the Ringlings’ tastes and lifestyle. In preparation for the opening of the Wisconsin, a portion of the Circus Museums will be closed to the public January 10 - 22, 2009.
During this time, Circus curatorial staff will update the galleries within the original Circus Museum. The opening of the Wisconsin and the reinterpreted galleries will enhance not only the visitors’ experience, but also their understanding of the vital role the Ringlings’ played in circus and Sarasota history.
“The tremendous work we have accomplished as a team is a sincere testament to our commitment to preserving history and making it accessible to diverse audiences,” said Executive Director Dr. John Wetenhall. “The team should be applauded for their vision, diligence and hard work in locating, transporting and restoring the Wisconsin railroad car to its original grandeur. We are proud to give our visitors another opportunity to look into the glorious life of John and Mable Ringling.”
After exterior restoration and in Alabama, the Wisconsin arrived in its final location on the Ringling Estate at the Circus Museum in August 2008. Since that time, a collaborative team of professionals and volunteers including conservators, curators, construction experts and senior leaders met the challenge of restoring its interior.
Built in 1905, the Wisconsin was John & Mable Ringling’s private railroad car, that carried them around the country and for travel between New York and Sarasota, Florida.
At 79 feet long, the car contains sleeping compartments, a kitchen, bathrooms and crew quarters. The interiors of the railroad car include inlaid mahogany, ornate moldings and stained glass.
The railroad played a large role in shaping the United States as well as the history of Florida. At that time, the private rail car was equivalent to today’s private jet –a means of transportation; and a symbol of the wealth and stature of its owner. For John Ringling, the railroad car was a means to conduct not only the business of the circus, but personal business
and pleasure as well. The Wisconsin was used as an office, hotel and a place to entertain friends, family, business associates and politicians in style.
The Wisconsin railroad car was selected for restoration because of its historical relevance, condition, restoration value and availability. “It is a perfect compliment to the Cà d’Zan Mansion,” said Deborah Walk, Tibbals Curator of the Circus at the Ringling Museum. “The railroad car is a precursor to the Cà d’Zan. The same attention to detail, ornate decoration and opulent accoutrements is present in the Wisconsin. This railroad car will give visitors a greater understanding of the Ringlings’ lifestyle.”
Most of the exterior restoration work was completed by the Edwards Rail Company in Montgomery, Alabama before the railroad car arrived at the Circus Museum. The majority of the interior restoration has been worked on while at its home in the Circus Museum.
The Ringling Museum’s conservation team is restoring the interior to its original grandeur using photographs and plans to reconstruct decorative moldings, paint colors, clean and replace original stained glass from the Kokomo Glass Company and fabricate components of the car.
“The opportunity to work with such talented professionals in restoring the Wisconsin has been rewarding and a wonderful lesson in patience, care and dedication,” Michele Scalera, Chief Conservator, said. “Our work is not complete and we will work within our means to bring the car back respectfully to its original form when Mr. John Ringling owned it.”
Due to the delicate nature of the restoration process and the limited space of the railroad car, visitors will be able to view the Wisconsin and the restored rooms from a designated viewing platform on the exterior perimeter of the car.
The collaborative team included:
Ringling Museum Senior Leaders:
- John Wetenhall, Executive Director
- Deborah Walk, Curator
- Chip Willis, Chief Operating Officer
- Michelle Scalera, Chief Conservator at the Ringling Museum
Leading the collaborative team restoring the Wisconsin.
- David Piurek, Conservation Assistants, contributed to much of the conservation work including ceiling decoration and gilding and recreation of decorative ornaments
- Jennifer Lemmer Posey, Norman Cornwell, Fred Dahlingher , Jesse Christian and Jessica Wehner, Ringling Museum Circus Team staff
- David Duncan, restoration consultant, Ringling Museum volunteer and railroad historian
- Howard Tibbals, Ringling Museum philanthropist and circus historian
- Donald and Carolyn McGarvey and Johnny Walker, Ringling Museum volunteers
- Edwards Rail Car Company, exterior restoration
- Ron Estep, The White Stain Glass Studio, Inc., repaired work on the stained and opalescent glass windows.
- Carl Lamperter of Precise Trim, interior finish carpentry and millwork
- Albert Pope of Pope Custom Furniture, recreated kitchen and crew room cabinetry
- Johnny Walker, Ringling Museum volunteer
- Todd Richesin, Todd Richesin Interiors, color matching and interior finish.
The Wisconsin railroad car was funded through a four-year, $400,000 federal grant awarded in November 2002 by the Florida Department of Transportation and generous donations from individuals. For more information on the Wisconsin and the Circus Museum visit www.ringling.org.