An auction house is helping to sell a museum collection of figurines that once symbolized “doing the impossible”.
The circus memorabilia auction features pieces from a permanent exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry. Officials hope by selling some memorabilia they will allow fans to experience “the greatest show on earth” from the comfort of their own homes.
“I think one of the reasons the circus is so inspirational is that it pushed our limits and our abilities,” said Kathleen McCarthy, director of collections and chief curator. “These circus performers did things that you couldn’t imagine could be done unless you saw them.”
The huge miniature circus collection originally consisted of 22,000 figures. It was designed by Roland J. Weber, a Chicago railroad worker, and is said to have taken three decades to complete.
“When it started in 1920, you can imagine, people didn’t have television, they might have had radio. There wasn’t a lot of entertainment, especially if you lived in a small town,” McCarthy said. “A circus that comes to town with thousands of people, exotic acts, just a spectacle must have changed the game.”
Auction items for sale include several motorized dioramas depicting the actions of hand-carved acrobats, clowns and animals. Other interactive elements reflect how the circus also served as an educational tool when it came to the city.
“The circus is an incredible industry. It employed thousands of people. It leveraged innovative business models and often introduced new technologies to its audience,” McCarthy said. “Our mission here is to ignite the inventive spirit in everyone… There’s a real reason people wanted to run away and join the circus.”
Despite the ingenuity that the circus once brought, that has now changed. That’s why the Museum of Science and Industry is saying goodbye to its collection in an upcoming auction at Potter and Potter.
“Even though the circus was a really incredibly wonderful exhibit, it’s inspiring…it’s a nostalgic throwback to a circus that no longer exists,” McCarthy said.
Other circus auction items include pieces from the Zweifel collection, which consists of nearly 500 additional pieces. Since the museum plans to use the auction proceeds to acquire new artifacts, they want these new pieces to embody the same message as the circus.
“Through the auction, we hope this miniature circus will continue to inspire others… Circuses today are different than what you see here, but they still offer that moment of inspiration, awe, spectacle that can really kind of propel us forward,” , McCarthy said.
Potter and Potter’s Circus Collection Auction takes place on Saturday 24th September at 10am. Visit potterauctions.com/auctions/upcoming for more information.
Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3
Note: This story will be updated with video.
Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.