The Ringling will unveil a series of four, early 20th-century, large-scale circus banners Nov. 7, 2014- March 29, 2015 in the Museum of Art. The banners are only now able to be displayed following a comprehensive, seven-year conservation process, spearheaded by Barbara Ramsay, Ringling Chief Conservator and formerly of ARTEX Conservation Laboratory in Washington D.C.
Created by Belgian designer and artist Frans De Vos, the 9 x 9.5-ft banners once adorned circus entrances or served as colorful stage backdrops, and they are now a part of Howard Tibbals’ comprehensive circus collection. The banners were hung on facades, arcades or hallways and easily movable from one location to another. However, the constant rolling and unrolling resulted in distortions, creases, and tears in the canvas supports. Over time, inexpert attempts to repair the damages contributed to even further damage. The worn banners were discarded and replaced with new ones. As a result, few of these monumental circus banners have survived to modern day.
The unique collection of banners that remain have suffered severe damage over the course of their approximately 100-year lifetime, and Tibbals selected ARTEX to carry out, between 2005 and 2012, the conservation process. Ramsay and a team of conservators were able to restore the banners, which Tibbals acquired in 1989 through careful analysis, documentation and treatment of the fragile canvas.
“They are charming. They capture a period in time in terms of the costumes and the way they’ve been painted. There aren’t many examples that have survived.”- Barbara Ramsay
In an ambitious effort to see Tibbals’ heroic gesture to completion, Ramsay and her ARTEX team reduced the aesthetic and structural damage caused by a lifetime of wear while retaining some signs of age and history, successfully returning the banners to a state stable enough for public display. Highlights of the conservation project include:
Following this complex conservation effort, the De Vos banners will re-debut to the public newly restored—marking the first time in decades that visitors can experience these rare works of art in a condition so close to their original.
Images courtesy of The Ringling Museum
The Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, FL, 34243/ 941-359-5700
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