Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Big Top Restoration

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Big Top Restoration

Article excerpt

Imagine being a lover and collector of all things circus- related, buying four rare European circus banners sight unseen, and eagerly awaiting their delivery, only to unroll them and see that their condition is not what you'd hoped for.

That's what happened to Howard Tibbals, chief supporter and benefactor of the Circus Museum at The Ringling.

He bought the banners, painted by Belgian artist Frans De Vos in the early years of the 20th century, from a London dealer in 1989, an addendum to a large collection of circus books, most of them in French. When the canvases were delivered "in a great big wooden crate," he unrolled one, saw the terrible condition it was in -- dirty, torn, and beat up from years of outdoor display -- rolled it back up and stored it and the others until 2004.

That's when he shipped them off to the ARTEX Conservation Laboratory in Washington, D.C., where they spent the next several years being painstakingly analyzed, documented and treated by a team of conservators under the watchful eye of Barbara Ramsay, who, coincidentally, is now chief conservator at The Ringling.

This week, after about $100,000 in restoration costs, they go on display not in the Circus Museum, the centerpiece of which is Tibbals' elaborate miniature circus, but in the art museum itself.

Conservators and preparators from the museum staff gathered last Friday for the official first view of the banners, as the team carefully peeled away the tape and plastic protecting each of the rolled canvases and unspooled them.

"We're being very careful about reassembling them," said Ringling executive director Steven High, who, like the rest of the team, had slipped off his shoes and was padding around the gallery in his stocking feet.

High, who came to The Ringling three years ago, said discovering the treasures of the Circus Museum has been "fantastic."

The banners, 9 feet by 9.5 feet, hang from long wooden bars that are clamped to the top and bottom. The weight of the bottom wooden bar pulls the fabric down so the vertical edges curve in ever so slightly.

The pieces, which were used either as stage backdrops or entry banners, depict acrobats and clowns. …

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