Ringling Museum

Like last week, both in blog-time and in real-time, my super amazing girlfriend and I are on our fantastic Florida vacation. We’re down a bit south of Tampa, and there are plenty of things to do in the region. We’re at my grandma’s house, and since she has been my grandma for quite some time and has lived here for quite some time, I have visited many times in the past and I have gone to most of the places that my super amazing girlfriend and I want to visit. This is good! This is good both because these places we are visiting are interesting, and also because it gives me a good chance to blog about them in order to maintain a constant production for the content mines! This blog post is about Ringling Museum.

A large banyan tree on the grounds. I’m a big fan of banyan trees.

The Ringling Museum is situated on the grounds of the former home of John and Mable Ringling. John Ringling is of Ringling Bros’ Circus fame, and apparently that old-timey circus money used to be real good money because this dude was rich. He was also the last surviving of the Ringling brothers and lived out his retirement down here in Florida. The museum is really three museums, or maybe three and a half. There is a Circus Museum, all about the circus, an art museum, which John and Mable collected art to be viewed by the public, and then a house tour of their very nice crib. There are also a pretty large and landscaped grounds, which got me my half in three and a half.

The first place we went upon entry was the circus portion of the museum. This in turn is split into two buildings. The second building mostly serves to house a variety of circus wagons and other large artifacts, including John Ringling’s private railroad car which seemed pretty nice. The first building tells the story of circuses and the Ringling circus specifically with a bunch of different displays and old posters and all that. One of their major displays is a gigantic scale model of the whole circus operation, built over 50 years by a very dedicated dude. The above picture is of a bandwagon housed in the main part of the museum. It is a wagon for the band, and it is included because I had never before considered I think that a bandwagon was an actual thing. Learning about the logistics operation of the circus was pretty interesting, and they have a huge section on circus advertising showing the importance of getting your message out. They also had some displays where you could sorta try out being a circus performer yourself, which is why I am expertly riding a horse in the top image.

The thing my super amazing girlfriend was especially interested in seeing, however, was the house, pictured (kinda poorly) right above. They had named their house “Ca’ d’Zan,” which is just Venetian for “House of John,” which makes sense but wow okay I guess we’ll just ignore Mable, huh? Anyways from the fact they named it in Venetian I hope you can guess that they were going for a Venice vibe, and not ever having been there I can’t tell you if they pulled it off but the place is pretty nice! In large parts it was a sorta standard rich person home, and the biggest feature I remember is that they made sure you could move some furniture around and expand the ballroom, because they were into ballroom dancing. They also named this room the “Court:”

They had apparently managed to get rich at just about the right time (or stay rich anyways) and bought a lot of furniture from the homes of formerly rich people who were foolish enough to invest in stocks before the great depression instead of cornering the market on acrobats. Nice! The place is right on the water overlooking the bay between the mainland and Longboat Key and is utterly lovely. The water-side of the Court is all colored glass giving the place a permanent rainbow appearance. Nice lifestyle if you can swing it. Last time I visited they had a full guided house tour, but due to COVID this was self-guided on only the first floor, though they did have an audio tour on your phone if you were patient enough. I’m excited to see what kind of house I build if I become extravagantly rich.

After walking the grounds a bit, the final part of the museum we went to was the art museum. Most of it is the art John and Mable had collected, which was largely Renaissance and pre-Renaissance art from Europe, if I recall correctly (I could look it up but that’s boring and un-exciting). Honestly I don’t really dig all that stuff so much but they did have a very nice collection as far as I could tell. There were some pictures of boats which I always like and also some very very large pictures, the content of which I wasn’t so into but the scale of which I admired. For both me and my super-amazing girlfriend, however, the part we liked the best was a whole section of Asian art, collected more recently than John and Mable’s time. This stuff was more our style anyways, and I think was overall more colorful and interesting.

The picture above the previous paragraph is of a goat they had. In museums I’m actually usually most drawn to the oldest stuff, because I like to think about the ancient people that made the art. I think it really connects the past to the present when you can see the brushstrokes laid down by a person that lived in such a dramatically different time and environment. This particular goat is from the Han Dynasty, somewhere within a century of year 0. That’s a two millennia-old goat. That goat and Jesus were contemporaries. It’s a pretty nice goat! I just like thinking about the Chinese person from so many centuries ago who sat down and made a goat, and now it’s sitting in a museum on the gulf coast of Florida. Wild, right?

But with that, having admired all the components of the museum, we head out and went back home. It is a very nice museum, and I am excited to go back when my super amazing girlfriend can get the whole house tour. Hopefully they get some more Asian art too.