National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Circus Wagon Circus Wagon
Rendered by Frank M. Keane (artist), c. 1938
watercolor and graphite on paper
overall: 33.2 x 51.3 cm (13 1/16 x 20 3/16 in.) Original IAD Object: 22' long; 10'9" long
Index of American Design
1943.8.8095
Not on View
From the Tour: Woodcarving from the Index of American Design
Object 12 of 26

The traveling circus received its start in America in 1824, when John Robinson took three wagons, five horses, and a tent across the Allegheny mountains. It was not long before the American circus became the "Greatest Show on Earth," bringing excitement to many towns, small and large, across the country. Circuses were transported by means of wagons, which became glamorous showpieces in themselves. The wagon builders employed woodcarvers to decorate the exteriors with figures and scrollwork. The result added to the impressive effect of a traveling company. Few circus carvings remain, however; not only were the wooden figures perishable, but they were not taken seriously in their own time and usually were not considered worthy of preservation. This circus wagon, of about 1875, is named "United States." Elaborately gilded and carved, it appropriately displays the Goddess of Liberty flanked by Indian maidens as symbols of our country.

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