I was 13 years old when I visited my first sideshow or “ten-in-one” at a carnival in Weirton, WV. I still recall all the acts that were in that show, and I recently decided to revisit four of those acts by creating a series of mixed media works for Oddities: The WLU Art Faculty Exhibition.

The barker was at a podium on a wooden platform in front to a huge tent. In front of him was a large spool of tickets. The tent was covered with illustrated banners showing us the wonderful oddities that we were about to see, as the barker kept repeating at the top of his lungs, “They’re ALIVE…..on the INSIDE!” Imagine, I thought, all this for only 35 cents!


To a kid, the bulldog lady did indeed look like her namesake. The barker spent several minutes telling the audience about the history of the bulldog lady. The climax came when the carnival barker removed the lady’s veil. For an extra ten cents we were invited behind a curtain to see her dog-like limbs.


The pinhead man had the most intriguing banner on the outside of the show. On the banner, his head came to a point similar to a pencil. Sharp! In person, he did have a pointed head, but it was a somewhat softer, smoother point, and a bit rounded at the top. I remember he looked sad, did not speak, and just stared into space. I felt bad for him, without really understanding why.


The world’s smallest policeman was just a little person (or “midget” as we said as kids) in a police uniform. I had my doubts that this was a real policeman, but this was the first time I had ever seen a little person outside of TV or the movies, so I thought it was still pretty damn cool.


The sword swallower started his act with a small sword not much bigger than a hunting knife. He demonstrated his abilities by using a series of swords, each one longer than the previous one. Before putting each sword into his mouth, the man would bang the tip of the sword on the wood platform to show us that it was real. To close his act, and as a way to quiet those in the audience who doubted his abilities, he put a long, yellow florescent tube down his throat. I still remember how his chest glowed.

Working with collage and paint was a nice switch from my usual studio work in cut tin and assemblage. I have been thinking of ways to combine my tin work with paint and mixed media, so perhaps this process was actually warming me up to go in that direction.


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