In an era spanning the early 20th century, through depression ridden times and a dust bowl, one form of revelry thrived – the circus. Traveling from coast to coast, rail cars packed with canvas, exotic animal menageries, strongmen, fat ladies, and roustabouts brought a much needed relief to millions of Americans. Now visitors at the Ontario Museum of History & Art’s new exhibition, Step Right Up! Behind the Scenes of the Circus Big Top, 1890 – 1965, opening February 4, 2016, will get to explore another side of this thrilling spectacle and a history fraught with intrigue and majesty.
As one of America’s oldest theatrical traditions, the circus started as a European transplant in the late 1700s and was perfected in the United States by the likes of John Bill Ricketts and P.T. Barnum, who first introduced us to sideshow oddities like the Feejee Mermaid and Tom Thumb. By 1900, there were more than 100 circuses crisscrossing the country and they were adept at using all of the advancements of America’s industrial revolution - the railroad, color lithography, and mass marketing strategies. The romanticized imagery, backstage stories, and photographs featured in Step Right Up! reveal both the fantasy and reality of circus life, exploring the illusions that played to the imaginations of so many.
Special Events that will be held in conjunction with the exhibition:
Prepare to be MYSTIFIED! Saturday February 13, 2016 (1 PM to 2 PM)
Join the Museum for an afternoon full of magic with illusionist Allen Oshiro. This unforgettable illusion act will entertain kids of all ages. This is a free event. Reservations are required.
Film Screening: Dumbo (1941), Saturday, February 20, 2016
(Refreshments/crafts at 2:30 PM, Film Screening at 3:30 PM)
Join the Museum for the classic film Dumbo (1941). Light refreshments, crafts and other fun activities will be available prior to the film screening. This is a free event. Reservations are required.
Circus Poster Presentation and Circus Diorama Workshop, Saturday, February 27, 2016 (2 PM to 4 PM)
Learn about the history of the circus poster from Greg McWhorter, teacher, pop-culture historian and private collector of vintage posters and books. After the lecture, create a small diorama inspired by the intrigue of the circus. To participate, bring a small box. Other materials will be provided. This is a free event. Reservations are required.
Family Discovery Day: Circus Spectacular! Saturday, March 12, 2016 (Noon to 4 PM)
Explore the exhibit Step Right Up! Behind the Scenes of the Circus Big Top, 1890 – 1965 and participate in art workshops, a photo booth, entertaining acts and face painting for the whole family! This is a free event.
Step Right Up! Behind the Scenes of the Circus Big Top, 1890 – 1965 takes viewers behind the scenes of the circus, exploring the dramatic pageantry, colorful past, and living presence of this grand American theatrical tradition. The exhibition is toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national program of Mid-America Arts Alliance. ExhibitsUSA sends more than 25 exhibitions on tour to more than 100 small- and mid-sized communities every year. Mid-America is the oldest nonprofit regional arts organization in the United States. More information is available at www.maaa.org and www.eusa.org.
The Ontario Museum of History & Art is located at 225 South Euclid Avenue, Ontario, CA 91762. Gallery hours are Noon to 4 PM, Thursday through Sunday. Admission is free. For information, call (909) 395-2510. The Ontario Museum of History & Art, is a public-private museum operated by the City of Ontario with support from the non-profit Ontario Museum of History & Art Associates.