Throughout the 250 year history of the modern circus, the traveling entertainment has maintained an important relationship with the visual art of printing. In fact, the growth of the circus parallels the evolution of commercial printing, with each business benefiting from innovations in the other. As the print industry advanced from movable type into lithography and eventually offset printing, circuses adopted new visual strategies to announce the wonders to come.
Even after shows folded and performers retired, circus posters and prints remained as unique windows on history. Once posted on buildings and fences to give a glimpse into the magical world of the circus that would soon arrive, today circus posters allow us to look at the changing American experience. Individually they tell of performers and shows, but collectively, in printed advertising we see cultural shifts in attitude from the growth of Western colonialist attitudes to the introduction of new technologies or the shifting role of women in society.
Printed materials spanning the 250 years of history will be on display in the Tibbals Learning Center in celebration of the anniversary year of the first modern circus.
Image: Ink on paper, etching, aquatint, HEIGHT: 8 1/2 × 11 in. (21.6 × 27.9 cm), Tibbals Circus Collection, ht8000704