On view through February 4th in the Tibbals Learning Center, the exhibition A Child’s Dream pairs historic circus posters from the Howard Tibbals collection with 19th and early 20th century toys on loan from the collection of Keith D. Monda.
Circuses embraced 19th century advances to commercial printing made possible by the Industrial Revolution, papering towns with brilliantly colored images weeks in advance of the big show. That same era saw a cultural shift in society’s view of childhood as an important stage in intellectual development. Schooling became regulated, and circus, as a view of the world beyond, served as an informal place of learning. Likewise play came to be viewed as intellectually valuable for a child’s development and this attitude, paired with the new technology of commercial lithographic printing, gave rise to a growing industry of toy making.
“The prevalence of circus imagery in antique toys indicates what a significant role the traveling entertainment held in American culture of the 19th and 20th centuries, as these toys allowed children to imagine their own magical circus world,” said Jennifer Lemmer Posey, Tibbals Curator of Circus at The Ringling.
The earliest toys in the display are from the 1860s and 70s, featuring the wood and paper Crandall acrobats accompanied by a poster of the Montie Family of French acrobat performing their feats. Posters featuring menageries, equestrian acts, Wild West shows, and performers costumed as famous characters of history and literature are showcased with the toys they inspired, tracking the evolution of circus and toy making through the decades to the 1930s and 40s.
This exhibition is part of the 250 Years of the Circus in Print series, marking 2018 as the 250th anniversary of circus.