The Ringling Museums
The Ringling Museums in Sarasota probably draw more visitors than any other place in the area — at least the visitors who have exchanged their bathing suits for street clothes. The museums’ astonishing beauty and treasures are a must-see. They are a big reason Sarasota and Bradenton were named the top small cities for art by American Style Magazine.
Sarasota for years has been known as a circus city. You might have seen Nik Wallenda walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope or cross a part of the Grand Canyon. Nik (we’re not exactly buddies, but he used to be my neighbor, so I will call him Nik) is the seventh generation of his Sarasota circus family to balance on a thin wire and risk his life to entertain the rest of us.
By far the biggest circus name in the history of the United States is “Ringling,” and the most prominent Ringling was John, who along with his brothers ran an enormous circus empire from 1870 to his death in 1936.
The circus was headquartered in Sarasota and John and his wife Mable spent a substantial amount of their fortune in Sarasota. And the Ringling Museums are the best evidence of that fortune. The Ringling Museum of Art is a magnificent building and houses John’s enormous collection of paintings by the Old Masters such as Rubens and Titian and also holds a world-renowned collection of Asian Art. Take a little tour:
The museum courtyard features a bronze copy of Michelangelo’s statute of David. A 1798 theatre from Asolo Italy (disassembled, reassembled, and lovingly renovated) is also a part of the museum and functions still today as a venue for performances, movies and lectures.
A few minutes’ walk from the large art museum is John and Mable Ringling’s 30 room mansion, “Ca` d’Zan” on Sarasota Bay, completed in 1926. The house itself is another art museum, and tours include most every room in the house including John’s and Mable’s private bed and bathrooms.
The grounds around Ca` D’Zan are as richly designed as the house. Mable Ringling planted a formal rose garden with over 1200 rose bushes, often used today for weddings, and landscaped the acres of the tropical paradise to suit her. She also created her “secret” garden which is open for all to see now.
In addition to the art museum, mansion and grounds, the Ringling museum complex houses the Circus Museums, a large building featuring actual memorabilia from the circuses– posters advertising its arrival to town, costumes, cages used for the lions and tigers, information about the performers, and photographs of the live acts. Also, the Ringling’s’ plush private railroad car is on display.
One of the favorite displays of the Circus Museum is The Howard Bros. Circus Model — a replica of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1919 – 1938 created over a period of more than 50-years by master model builder and philanthropist Howard Tibbals.
Spend a while on the Museums’ website and explore what’s in store for you. If you have the time, spend a whole day being amazed. You won’t be sorry!
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Judy Gee, Owner