Woodward began his talk with a bit of family history that seemed to make it inevitable that he would paint "The Greatest Show on Earth." Long before Woodward was born, his grandfather and his great-uncle ran away to join the circus. They ended up not as performers, but as painters of the signs advertising sideshows like little Tom Thumb. Post-circus life, Woodward's grandfather continued to paint large scale commercial signs, a vocation that became the family business. It's hard to imagine another artist for whom this project would feel so personal.
It was fascinating to hear Woodward speak about the process of creating murals in general and this mural in particular (which, at 924 square feet, is the largest mural painted by a single artist in the 20th century). Woodward explained to the audience some of the differences between easel painting and mural painting. Murals are narrative in nature and are intended for an "ambulatory spectator." (I love that phrase.) Murals require significant planning; the artist can't just hope that it all will come together (or start over if it doesn't turn out!) And, for a historical project such as this one, intensive research is required before a paintbrush is ever picked up.
|William Woodward with his cartoon|
|Portrayal of Gunther Gebel-Williams|
|Portrayal of Laura Litts Weiss|
The "Greatest Show on Earth" was donated by Feld Entertainment to the Ringling in 2012 when the company moved its headquarters. Needless to say, moving the work was a huge project in and of itself. In my next post, I'll share some of the tidbits from Peggy William's talk about the performers that are featured in the work.