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The Ringling Celebrates International Clown Week

In honor of International Clown Week we are celebrating employees of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, past and present, who have also been a part of the clown community!

Mel Miller in clown makeup, dated August 18th 1945

Mel Miller with the Circus, August 18, 1945. Image Courtesy of Heidi Taylor.

Mel Miller, who passed away in 1981, was the Curator of the Circus Museum from 1959-1968. Originally destined for West Point, but finding he had a ruptured ear drum, Mel was 18 when he ran away with the circus. He traveled with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey for two years, learning his craft from Lou Jacobs, Harry Dan and the other classic clowns. After, he worked to help establish The Showfolks of Sarasota, was the first Dean of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, and worked at Marriott's Great America Themes parks where he taught initial clowning techniques to interns and students.

Mel Miller in clown costume in 1945

Mel Miller with the circus, 1945. Image courtesy of Heidi Taylor.

In one interview, Mel, referring to his clowning days, said, "I wouldn't swap the experience for anything". It was an important part of his life, and was at the heart and soul of everything he did.

For our next clown, meet one of The Ringling Archivists, Peggy Williams

Portrait of Peggy Williams in clown costume

Image courtesy of Peggy Williams

Peggy was one of the first female clowns to attend the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, and the first to receive a contract with the circus when she graduated in the class of 1970. She performed on tour with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey until 1980, in thousands of performances.

Portrait of Peggy Williams in clown costume

Image Courtesy of Peggy Williams

When asked what it means to be a clown, Peggy said, "To me the joy of clowning is to bring a moment of surprise, smiles and laughter to the one or the many. That's what lifetime memories are made of. That's what Children of All Ages need! That's what we clowns do!"

And finally, please meet facilities program associate at The Ringling, Beth Walters

Beth Walters as a clown at age 2 and 22

Image courtesy of Beth Walters

Beth first fell in love with the Circus, and clowning in particular when she was 14 years old and saw a performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus on Long Island. The Clown College had closed in 1997, which meant that Beth was not able to attend the school for formal clown training. That did not deter her from learning to art of clowning on her own. A week before graduating college for Communication Studies Beth was offered a contract with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, fulfilling her dream of being a clown. Unfortunately, a few days after she started the announcement was made that the circus would be permanently closing within a few short months. While this news was devastating, Beth loved the experience with all of her heart. To her, what it means to be a clown all comes down to creating connections. She said, "One of my favorite quotes is 'life is about people because at the end of the day we are here to connect'. That is what clowning is defined as to me, the ability to connect with others. Connection is what makes us feel alive, and a clown has the ability to look into someone’s heart and say “I see you” without having to say any words."

 

 

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