Back before Reality TV made the ridiculous seem normal, the traveling circus was the bastion of the weird and wonderful. People came from miles around hoping to see not only exotic animals, clowns and trapeze, but also acts promoted as breathtaking and bizarre. Bearded-ladies, half men-half women, the Incredible Snake Boy, this was the fare promoters traded in, and in a world lacking television or Internet, the tool used to sell tickets with greatest effect was the circus banner.
Snap Wyatt was the king of the circus banner. From the 30s through the 60s his massive canvases were on display all over the country, luring punters in with their fantastic tales. At the time no one really valued these pieces as art, yet today, as nostalgia for that bygone era increases, Wyatt’s colorful creations are in huge demand whenever they appear at auction.
Which brings us to Lot 29 in Material Cultures Collectors Eye: Art and Artifacts From American Estates sale - an oil on canvas titled "Worlds Strangest Girls." Wyatt produced the piece for promoter Dick Best, who in the early/mid 60s toured an all girl show with "born" and "working" (tattooed, fire eaters, sword swallowers, metamorphosis illusions) acts. In addition to the generic acts, "Worlds Strangest Girls" featured a Frog Girl, an Alligator Lady, a dancing midget and the Tattooed Lady Betty Broadbent. A top night out for sure.
Lot 29 is just one of the many attractions on offer in Material Cultures Collectors Eye catalog, where 572 lots, hand-picked by experts from selected American estates, are set to go under the hammer. Lot 44 is sure to spark pangs of nostalgia in more than one breast. A vintage Soapbox Derby racer constructed of painted masonite and plywood, the car is in immaculate condition and goes by the name "Herbie."
Lot 2 is an absolute must for collectors of African-American history - a rare 1933 first edition of Roll, Jordan, Roll. Featuring over 90 fascinating images, the works title was adapted from an 18th Century Charles Wesley spiritual well-known among slaves during the 19th century. Eventully, Roll, Jordan, Roll was appropriated as a coded message for escape.
Material Cultures Collectors Eye: Art & Artifacts From American Estates auction is set down for Saturday, March 26. Look now at the full catalog.