The name Ringling is synonymous with the “Greatest Show on Earth.” The name conjures up images of a caravan of trucks and trailers transporting exotic animals and unique individuals. Every kid in town wanted a ticket to that show. The lights, the animals, the daring feats, and the sometimes outrageous shows had a special charm. Every store in the city had a large colorful poster announcing the event. The kids saved their money to buy tickets and, if they’re lucky, some popcorn. It is this same name that was the founder and builder of the Museum of Art. John and Mable Ringling had a love for art.
After purchasing a prime property in Sarasota, Florida, the couple built an incredible and magnificent mansion called Ca ‘d’Zan, which means John’s House. This mansion was five stories high and had more than 40 rooms. The Ringlings traveled the world in search of circus acts and also purchased works of art that were eventually displayed at the Ringling 21 Gallery museum.
The Ringling Story
There was a period of decline after John’s death. But during the fight, A. Everett ‘Chick’ Austin, Jr. was hired as Director of the Museum of Art. He opened the first Circus Museum using various artifacts and memorabilia from the circus. He also built a separate theater building that was designated with an original decoration from a theater located in Venice, Italy.
Establishing the Ringling heritage took decades. Private donors helped keep the state barely functioning. Finally, as recently as 2000, the state of Florida handed over governance of the museum to Florida State University. The University invested a considerable amount of money to restore the original buildings and built four more: a Visitor’s Pavilion; The Circus Museum Tibbals Learning Center; David F. Bolger Playspace; and the Asian Art Center. The new buildings, combined with the four historic buildings: Ca ‘d’Zan; Art Museum; Circus museum; and the historic Asolo Theater – make up The Ringling.
Nicknamed the Florida State Museum of Art, this gallery art museum is the premier destination in Sarasota. Works of art and antiques, many of them selected by the Ringlings, are on display for the public’s enjoyment. In fact, 21 original galleries are being systematically renovated to display these wonderful works in new and inspiring ways. In addition to enjoying the many galleries, the Museum also offers special events. Check their website for current details. Permanent collection tours are available every day. Tickets are $ 10 each at the admission desk. Private visits can also be arranged. Prices start at $ 100; Reservations must be made two weeks in advance.
John and Mable Ringling’s private home would be something straight out of the “palace floor plan magazine” if it existed. Designed in the Venetian Gothic style, this mansion has all the beautiful things imaginable. Large ornate rooms filled with priceless treasures and elaborate furnishings. Tours of the magnificent house are available at the admission desk.
Special events are also held throughout the year. For example, during the annual Holiday Splendor, Ca ‘d’Zan organizes Holiday Nights from Thursday to December. Visit the mansion, all dressed for Christmas
The Ringling Museum of the American Circus was created by A. Everett “Chick” Austin Jr. The artifacts include the artists’ cabinets and a wide variety of circus memorabilia, including accessories, carts, parade cars and much more. Recently, the freeway, Wisconsin, has been completely restored and is available at the museum. This highway was the home of the Ringlings while they traveled with the circus. Entrance to the circus museum is included in the admission ticket to The Ringling.
The Bayfront Gardens occupy 66 acres adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. Stunning views amongst splendid plantations of trees, flowers and shrubs. The garden is divided into several distinct areas.
Mable’s Rose Garden
Mable loved roses, and this garden was one of his earliest works. The restoration of this garden includes roses introduced between 1867 and 2002. The splendid garden houses tree roses, hybrid tea roses, floribundas, grandifloras, miniature roses and antique garden roses. Mable would be proud of this garden: 1200 plants to enjoy its beauty and overwhelming smells.
The Secret Garden
This garden started with plants that Mable received as gifts. Now the garden is the final resting place of John and Mable Ringling and Ida Ringling North, John’s sister.
The Dwarf Garden
Modeled after the German and Italian gardens of the 18th and 19th centuries, there are a variety of dwarf stone statues that came from Italy. Located next to the Visitor’s Pavilion, the garden’s dwarf figures continue to enchant and entertain guests of The Ringling.
The Trees of the Farm
Mable was passionate about exotic trees. The 66-acre garden is stocked with a diverse collection of trees including Banyan, Shaving Brush, Tiger Claw, Monkey Puzzle, Ear, Rainbow Eucalyptus, and various types of bamboo.
The Promenade and Millennium Tree Trail
A grand promenade was built in 2010 to connect Ca ‘d’Zan to the Millennium Tree Trail. The trail is lined with many trees including oak, holly, citrus, and magnolia.
Historic Asolo Theater
Known as the birthplace of the performing arts in Florida, the theater dates back to the 15th century and the Queen of Cyprus. Decades later, the theater was built in the great hall of the queen’s palace. Moving on, the theater was dismantled and stored in Venice during WWII. It was eventually bought for the Museum of Art and moved to Florida and rebuilt. It has been completely restored and is now in the Visitor’s Pavilion.
The theater is U-shaped and has three tiers of boxes. The Asolo hosts regular performances of live plays and music.
The Education Center houses the Ringling Art Library. It contains thousands of volumes on art in all its forms. The collection is open for public use, but cannot be distributed.
The Education Center hosts a variety of events including story time on select Fridays; a book club and educator program on Saturdays. The Center is also open for classroom events.