MICA PRESENTS LARGEST
SIDESHOW PERFORMER JOHNNY ECK, DEC.
Baltimore Cult Personality Comes to Life Through Artwork,
Props, Personal Scrapbooks and More
Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) will present a
never-before-seen exhibition of personal objects,
artifacts and artworks by sideshow performer Johnny Eck
(1911–1991), one of Baltimore’s most famous citizens. The
Amazing Johnny Eck, the largest exhibition of Eck’s works,
will take place from
13, 2013–Sunday, March 16, 2014,
in Fox Building’s Decker Gallery (1303 W. Mount Royal
Ave.), with an opening reception
Friday, Dec. 13,
Perhaps best known for his
role as "the half-man" in Tod Browning’s film
(1932), Eck later achieved worldwide fame as Robert
Ripley’s "most remarkable man alive" and was a skilled
performer, artist, actor, magician, puppeteer and
woodcarver, amassing a cult following that exists to this
The exhibition is the first
ever of its size, showing hundreds of Eck’s works on
paper, sculptures, drawings and paintings—including
painted screens, a Baltimore folk art tradition.
The Amazing Johnny Eck
will feature personal
objects, film memorabilia and family photographs, creating
a vivid portrait of Eck, whose many achievements were
brought about through his love of life and will to create.
"I’ve spent nearly two decades
trying to understand the far-reaching arms of Johnny Eck,"
said Jeffrey Pratt Gordon, curator of the exhibition and
the Johnny Eck Museum. "He touched so many people during
his life and continues to do so decades after his passing.
My motivation has always been to share his life with
others through his personal letters, photographs, artwork
and objects that helped define his multifaceted life."
Some of the never-before-seen
objects include: Eck’s hand-carved and painted Punch and
Judy puppets and miniature circus, along with his wood
carving tools and paints; his fully functional miniature
train; rare press clippings from his personal scrapbooks;
several articles of Eck’s personal clothing and hats;
objects and ephemera from his career as a sideshow
performer, actor and magician; artwork and sculptures by
others inspired by Eck, including American cartoonist and
musician Robert Crumb (R. Crumb); and Eck’s steamer trunks
and stage props from his traveling show.
John "Johnny" Eckhardt, Jr. was born
on Aug. 27, 1911, at his parents’ home in Baltimore as one
of two twins. Eck, though healthy, was born with no lower
half. In his 79 years, Eck (his performance name was
shortened by his first manager) accomplished much as a
sideshow performer, artist, photographer, magician, Punch
and Judy puppeteer, expert model maker, race car driver,
swimmer, gymnast, actor, train conductor and traveler.
The Amazing Johnny Eck
coincides with a
second exhibition at MICA that celebrates Baltimore
culture. From Friday, Dec. 13, 2013–Sunday, March 16,
2014, the Fox Building’s Meyerhoff Gallery (1303 W. Mount
Royal Ave.) will
house PICTURE WINDOWS ... The
Painted Screens of Baltimore and Beyond, which explores
the history and cultural significance of the artistic
painted screens throughout the city, beginning 100 years
ago. As a young man, Eck was a student of Baltimore’s
original screen painter, William Oktavec, and when he
returned from his film career in Hollywood, he picked up
where he left off, painting screens for his neighbors and
far-flung customers and admirers.
Planned accompanying public
programming at MICA includes a screening of the film
Freaks with a
panel discussion and a circus performance. More details
will become available closer to the exhibition opening.
Hours for MICA’s galleries, which
are free and open to the public, are Mondays–Saturdays, 10
a.m.–5 p.m., and Sundays, noon–5 p.m.
For high-resolution images or
interview requests, contact MICA’s Office of
Communications at 410.225.2300.
MICA’s exhibitions are supported by
a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency
dedicated to cultivating a vibrant cultural community
where the arts thrive. An agency of the Department of
Business & Economic Development, the MSAC provides
financial support and technical assistance to non profit
organizations, units of government, colleges and
universities for arts activities.
Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute
College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously
degree-granting college of art and design in the nation.
The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate
and continuing studies students from all 50 states and 57
countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art
education, liberal arts, and professional studies degree
and non-credit programs. Redefining art and design
education, MICA is pioneering interdisciplinary approaches
to innovation, research, and community and social
engagement. Alumni and programming reach around the globe,
even as MICA remains a cultural cornerstone in the
Baltimore/Washington region, hosting hundreds of
exhibitions and events annually by students, faculty and
other established artists.
The Johnny Eck Museum began
collecting Johnny Eck(hardt) material shortly after his
twin brother, Robert, died in 1995. Since that time, its
goal has been to accumulate anything pertaining to the
incredible lives of the Baltimore-born brothers. The
wonderful journey has included pouring over hundreds of
family letters, photographs, drawings and diaries.
Listening to Johnny’s audio tapes, 78 rpm records and
hearing the stories related from people who knew them.
Their impressive story spanned nearly eight decades of the
greatest and most tragic events of our times, and, through
all the world’s ups and downs, they managed their lives
with a resilience that many lacked and a sense of pride
and will that was unmatched. Ladies and gentlemen, the
Johnny Eck Museum wants to share this amazing story
through its collection of memorabilia from the personal
belongings of Johnny and Robert Eckhardt.
Image caption: Johnny Eck with his hand-built miniature
race car and his fellow circus "freaks," circa 1936.
(Image courtesy the Johnny Eck Museum in Baltimore.)
director of public relations Dionne McConkey, assistant
director of public relations
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