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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Circus Comes to Life at Dunedin Fine Art Center

"He willingly revealed sideshow secrets and told me how much the fat lady really did weigh."


Ward Hall, former sideshow master, poses next a piece by Safety Harbor artist Johnny Meah, on exhibit at the Dunedin Fine Art Center.Credit Courtesy Diana Boze Proia

By Diana Boze Proia


September 21, 2011

\The Art of the CircusThe circus is in town; at least, that is what it felt like as I entered the Dunedin Fine Arts Center for the grand opening of the Louis and Valarie Flack east wing.
When I entered the building I saw poster size canvas paintings depicting the drama during the golden era of the circus. Contemporary artists had presented vintage sideshow banners to capture the inspiration of the circus. Before the circus came to town colorful posters were designed and plastered all over town to generate excitement.
As I walked down the hall I saw posters of people with human deformities that made up the sideshow. I felt like the circus was all around me. If I closed my eyes, I could see a ferris wheel and the Tilt- A-Whirl at the beginning of the midway. Under the "Big Top" are the freaks of nature, the midget, the two-headed lady, the ugliest woman alive and of course the fattest lady in the world. The only thing missing was the smell of funnel cakes.
A colorful, painted canvas of a fat lady caught my eye. As I stood in front of it to admire the artist’s work, the gentleman next to me said, “It’s beautifully done don’t you think?”
He was a small, balding man with most of his teeth missing. He was dressed in a bright yellow polyester sport coat weathered with age.
“I can tell you about the artist because I know him. This colorful banner was created by Johnny Meah, a Safety Harbor artist,” he said.
I later found out that the canvas was owned by Susan Benjamin and on loan to the Art Center for the exhibit.
He extended his hand and introduced himself: “I’m Ward Hall. I was a sideshow master for the circus.”

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