One of our favorite day trips is heading south, about an hour, to Sarasota.
I’m a bit of a circus nut and have been to the circus numerous times. During my childhood, I was able to juggle three pins, ride a unicycle (not at the same time) and really wanted to go to Ringling Brothers Clown College.
We became members of The Ringling when we moved to St Petersburg, and we really enjoy taking friends there and reciprocal membership with other local museums.
The Ringling, the State Art Museum of Florida is home to an incredible collection of art and culture surrounding the life of circus legend John Ringling and his wife, Mabel.
More Than A Circus
John was one of five brothers who created “The Greatest Show On Earth!” He and his wife began spending winters in Sarasota in 1912, and his development of the local real estate market grew Sarasota from a small town into a thriving community and eventually the winter home of the circus.
Ca’ d’Zan or House of John is the name of the 36,00 square foot mansion with 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms built in the Venetian Gothic style according to sketches and postcards Mable had from Venice.
Completed in 1926, the cost way over the original budget at the cost of $1.5 million! No expense was spared as she collected antiques from the mansions of New York and across the country and brought in Venician glass and amazing artisans to do hand detailing.
The mansion sits on Sarasota Bay, and several very affordable tours are available. Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed inside the mansion. #InstagramFail
And, you want to take a stroll to explore the saltwater pool and Mable’s prized rose and sculpture garden.
Museum of Art
John later built a 21 gallery art museum with a collection of work from some of the world’s greatest artists, including Old Masters.
We never seem to get to that side of the property as there is so much to explore. That will have to be a separate day trip for us.
Another major attraction at The Ringling is the Circus Museum, filled with vintage circus memorabilia from the glory days of the circus. Parade wagons, circus posters, and costumes are only part of this museum that shares incredible circus history.
The Tibbals Learning Center houses the 44,000 piece Howard Bros. Circus model. The sheer number of pieces and the details that it includes are incredible. Howard Tibbals created this recreation of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus of past history.
The model spans a display of 3,800 square feet!
The Greatest Show On Earth
The learning center also houses an impressive 924 square foot mural “The Greatest Show On Earth” by William Woodward. Painted in oil on canvass the mural depicts the circus of the 70s and 80s with 45 performers and 45 animals. (including a unicorn)
It’s incredible detail, brilliant colors and iconic acts take me back to my childhood.
The Ringling is a beautiful place to spend a day (or two) in Sarasota during a visit to Florida’s west coast and certainly worth the trip.
To find out more about the grounds, Museum of Art, Asolo Theater and tours of The Ringling, visit their website at: www.ringling.org