Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Masterpiece Mural
Donated to the Ringling Museum of Art,
Home of Celebrated Circus Museum
Sarasota, Fla. – Dec. 12, 2012 – The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and Feld Entertainment are proud to announce the installation of one of the largest circus murals ever painted, William Woodward’s The Greatest Show on Earth. Originally commissioned by Feld Entertainment Chairman and CEO Kenneth Feld in 1989, the massive circus mural adorned the main lobby of the company’s headquarters for more than two decades. The mural is being donated to the Ringling Museum by Feld Entertainment and the Feld Family. Once complete, the installation of The Greatest Show on Earth will mark the first time the mural will be readily accessible by the public.
Measuring 22 by 42 feet, the Mural, The Greatest Show on Earth, captures many of the Circus’s greatest personalities from the Feld stewardship of Ringling Bros., ranging from aerialists and clowns to high-wire artists. The Ringling Museum will unveil the Mural to the public Saturday, January 19, 2013. A special ceremony earlier that week will reunite for the first time many of the iconic performers immortalized in the work.
“The Feld Family’s gift of this spectacular mural by William Woodward is a significant addition to our collections on the modern circus,” said Steven High, Executive Director, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. “Seeing the Mural, The Greatest Show on Earth, will be the first experience our visitors have as they enter the Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center. It will be a stirring prelude to the rich story we tell of the history of the American circus and its cultural impact on society.”
“The Greatest Show on Earth impressed and inspired visitors to our company’s headquarters for more than 20 years. Since Feld Entertainment is moving our global operations to a new site in Ellenton, Florida, not far from the Ringling Museum, we thought it fitting that the legacy of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® shown in the mural belonged in the Ringling Museum,” said Kenneth Feld. “The Feld Family is thrilled that public audiences will now be able to enjoy this work, which truly captures the magic, drama, and excitement that can only be found at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.”
To conceptualize the grandiose subject of the Mural, Woodward traveled across the country with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus during 1989 to 1990. While on tour, Woodward spent much of his time behind the scenes, closely studying the performers, animals, wardrobe
s, and props of the many acts and created more than 100 preliminary drawings. His extensive research culminated in the Mural evokes the unique excitement of the show. Among the notable figures include:
- Gunther Gebel-Williams (1934-2001): known as the “Lord of the Rings” and the “Greatest Animal Trainer of All Time,” Gebel-Williams worked with tigers, elephants, horses, leopards and many other animals while performing with Ringling Bros. from 1969 through 1990.
- Lou Jacobs (1903–1992): one of the world’s most famous clowns, Jacobs performed for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey for more than 60 years. He was the first living person ever featured on a U.S. postage stamp and his face remains an iconic symbol of the American clown.
- Dolly Jacobs: Lou Jacobs’ daughter, Dolly, known as the “Queen of the Roman Rings”, performed as an aerialist with Ringling Bros. during 1977 to 1986.
- Flying Vazquez: The Vasquez family performed with Ringling Bros. during the 1980s and Miguel was the world’s first flying trapeze artist to complete a quadruple somersault.
- Fudi (Gyorgy Zsilak): The world-renowned master juggler, Fudi won the International Juggler’s Association All Around Championship in 1969 and performed with Ringling Bros. during the late 1960s.
- King Tusk & Living Unicorn: King Tusk was the largest land mammal to ever travel with Ringling Bros. His pair of truly titanic tusks measured over six and a half feet in length. The “Living Unicorn” was one of “the most talked about spectacles” in Ringling Bros. history, touring with the circus in 1985-86.
The Mural, The Greatest Show on Earth, took Woodward and his two assistants two years to complete. The Mural began as a gridded drawing, which was then divided into four panels, enlarged by 400%, and transferred onto canvas. Then Woodward and his assistants were able to begin the meticulous and physically demanding process of applying multiple layers of paint and glaze across the work’s 968-square-foot surface.
As part of the gift of the Mural, the Feld Family and Feld Entertainment, Inc. also donated the services of Page Conservation to transfer the mural to Sarasota and install the work in the Ringling Museum. The de-installation of the Mural from Feld Entertainment, Inc.’s headquarters lasted more than 360 hours. The installation at the Ringling Museum began in October, as a team of painters and conservators – including Woodward himself – work to apply the painting to the wall of the Tibbals Learning Center.
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About William Woodward
William Woodward is Professor Emeritus of Fine Art at The George Washington University where he taught and directed the painting program for graduate students. Woodward grew up in Washington D.C., and earned his B.A. and M.A. from American University. He studied at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, and at the Accademia di Belli Arti in Florence, Italy on a Fellowship from The Leopold Shepp Foundation.
Predominately working as a muralist, Woodward has several decades of experience in creating narrative art. In addition to The Greatest Show on Earth, Woodward’s most notable works are The Great Odyssey of Medicine at the Conference Center of Fairfax Inova Hospital, and A Loudoun County Story at the Thomas Balch Library Mural in Leesburg, Virginia. His most recent commissions include the mural, Thomas Jefferson at Monticello at the new visitors’ center at Jefferson’s home, and a mural at the Lincoln National Monument in Washington, D.C.
About Feld Entertainment
Feld Entertainment is the worldwide leader in producing and presenting live touring family entertainment experiences that lift the human spirit and create indelible memories, with 30 million people in attendance at its shows each year. Feld Entertainment's productions have appeared in 74 countries on six continents and include Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®, Monster Jam, Supercross, Nuclear Cowboyz, Arenacross, Disney On Ice and Disney Live!