Baltimore Cult Personality Comes to Life Through Artwork, Props, Personal Scrapbooks and More

BALTIMORE—The 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 Friday, Dec. 13, 2013–Sunday, March 16, 2014, in Fox Building’s Decker Gallery (1303 W. Mount Royal Ave.), with an opening reception Friday, Dec. 13, 5–8 p.m.

Perhaps best known for his role as "the half-man" in Tod Browning’s film Freaks (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 day.

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. Additionally, 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. johnnyeckmuseum.com

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.)

August 23, 2013

Jessica Weglein, director of public relations Dionne McConkey, assistant director of public relations

410.225.2300 or news@mica.edu



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