Thrills & Chills! The Fantastic World of the American Circus

Letterpress Print
50-1/2" x 27-7/8"
The Peabody College Collection, Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery
1979.1196P
© Cole Brothers Circus, Inc.

(June 11 – September 5, 2015)

The traveling circus reached its peak of popularity in the first half of the twentieth century and, while a few remain, it has largely disappeared from the experience of the average American. For over a half-century, the circus was one of the primary ways for Americans to participate in a growing leisure culture. The circus came to them, the biggest ones traveling by rail to towns and cities across the country, and, on “Circus Day,” entire cities would shut down, freeing up citizens to fill the 10,000 seats under the Big Top. It was an imaginative experience, with great feats of man and beast and sideshows that expanded one’s notions of the limits of science. Posters that advertised circus acts and banners displaying teasers to the wonders of sideshows are as colorful as the spectacles they promise and the true focus of Thrills & Chills! The Fantastic World of the American Circus. The exhibition includes vintage posters from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the Beatty-Cole Circus that are in the fine arts gallery collection and have never before been exhibited. In additional, vintage sideshow banners from a private collection and contemporary ones by artist Glen C. Davies, historical photographs, and a fun house mirror from the collection of the Tennessee State Museum will be displayed.

Thrills & Chills! The Fantastic World of the American Circus is organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery, with support from the Ewers Gift for Fine Art, and is curated by Joseph S. Mella, director, and Margaret F. M. Walker, art curator assistant.