Circus Performers

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Hugo Schmitt, born July 19, 1904 in Germany, died August 9, 1977 in Sarasota, Florida, USA, was a German-American circus artist, animal trainer and one of the worlds most famous elephant trainers with a record of 55 elephants performing in the ring. Schmitt was elephant superintendent at the world's largest circus, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the USA from 1947 to 1971. Feld Entertainment stopped using elephants in their performances in 2016 and ended the circus for good in 2017.

Over the decades, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey featured an array of stars whose names are among the most prominent in circus history.

One the circus’s early stars was May Wirth (1894–1978), who performed flips, leaps, and contortions on horseback. German-born aerialist Lillian Leitzel (1892–1931) dazzled audiences by performing her acrobatics on Roman rings 50 feet (15 metres) above the ground without a net. Husband and wife Arthur (1912–2001) and Antoinette (1910–84) Concello earned fame on the trapeze as the Flying Concellos. Antoinette, the first woman to successfully execute an airborne triple somersault, was hailed as the “greatest woman flyer of all time.”

Among other women who made their mark with the circus were the diminutive animal trainers (both of whom were about 5 feet [1.5 metres] tall) “Marvelous Mabel” Stark (1889–1968), who commanded tigers for some six decades despite receiving many hundreds of stitches as a result of attacks by her animal charges, and Ursula Blütchen (1927–2010), who worked with polar bears.

Arguably, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s best-known animal trainer, though, was Clyde Beatty (1903–65), who flamboyantly prodded lions and tigers with a chair, a whip, and a blank-shooting pistol. The Zacchini brothers (including Hugo [1928–2016]) acted as human cannonballs, fired from a cannon into a net across the tent.

Founded by Karl Wallenda (1905–78), the Great Wallendas (later Flying Wallendas) joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 1928 and thrilled audiences by forming human pyramids on the high wire.

Emmett Kelly (1898–1979), one of the most famous clowns in history, was a featured performer for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey from 1942 to the late 1950s. In the 21st century Bello Nock combined daredevil acrobatics and stunts with a comic persona.


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Riley Farlow

Riley Farlow is currently a student at Ringling College of Art and Design, majoring in Fine Arts. She graduated from Booker High School as part of the VPA Program. Riley works with a wide variety of mediums, from intricate jewelry to large scale oil paintings. She has always loved to explore different kinds of art and is especially passionate about animals and nature, often incorporating those elements into her work.

This event has been a amazing opportunity to gain more mural experience while also celebrating the unique history of Sarasota!

I painted a whimsical scene of a circus performer and elephant.