Rube Merrifield - Banner Artist

Scenery Painter


Rube was a banner artist and muralist who worked mainly for clients such as the Ringling Brothers Circus, and other large scale events. Though he had his own studio in Coney Island, he would travel to Sarasota, Florida to prepare the Circus banners, and to other venues for major exhibitions, shows, and similar grand events.

Divorced From Izola Forrester in 1913, Rube was soon befriended by young Emma Brunnengraber who was destitute, and offered to make and manage a household for Rube, an arrangement that lasted until Rube's death. Soon son Dick entered the picture, choosing to live with his father.

In 1925, Dick married Emma. Still at work through the 1920s, the aging Rube continued to live with Emma and his writer-editor son Dick Merrifield in Brooklyn, New York and vicinity.

Emma and Dick were divorced in 1930, but Emma continued to keep house for Rube in the dire economic straights of the early Great Depression. Rube died of cancer in 1932, and was mourned by Emma as her "Daddy."
[edit] Professional Influence

In the years following their divorce/separation in about 1913 Izola Forrester had little favorable to say about Rube, including his artistic talent. This, however, was not the attitude of his son Richard, nor of his peers:

Every school of art has its founder, and with the show banner school it was the late Rube Merrifield, king of the banner painters, who set the style, Snapp [Wyatt] learned the secret by working under Mr. Merrifield, and believes all his contemporaries also were students of his. The master died in 1932 when he was 72 years old.

"Before Rube began painting, which was a long time ago, because he was there with the old Barnum and Bailey shows, the banners were painted in oil" said Snapp, "and they were pretty drab and stiff. He was a master with the bizarre and unusual, and put color and ad appeal in his painting. Before Rube came along no one thought of using oranges and reds."

From this old-timer Snapp got his technique, but his ideas come from his memory of canvas tents going up on empty lots, of curious crowds listening to the sideshow barker (talker) and studying the weird paintings, of coins tinkling in the cashier's cage.

..Something else he learned from Mr. Merrifield was the secret formula for poster banner paint. It is the kind that won't rub off or crack on canvas and can withstand years of rain and wind. The favorite color of showmen is that glaring reddish - orange, which everyone associates with circuses and carnivals. But since the war orange mineral has been scarce, and Snapp has found a yellow background the next best thing.

The Tampa Daily Times, Monday, September 28, 1946

By JUANITA GREENE Times Staff Writer

Above Photograph - Reuben Robert Merrifield circa 1877


Rube Merrifield's Studio at Dreamland, Coney Island


Rube's Business Card


Rube at work for Ringling Brothers in Sarasota, FL Feb 1931, the year before his death.


Rube Merrifield circa 1920

Born Reuben Robert Merrifield -  21 Sep 1860 - Wellington, Lorain, OH

Died 13 Apr 1932, age 71 - New York

Residence Chicago, Cook, IL (1900)

Canterbury, Windham, CT

Brooklyn, Kings, NY (1910-30)

Nationality American

Other names Rube Merrifield
Occupation Banner Artist
Scenic Artist

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