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Arts and Entertainment Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 8 months ago

Circus aerialists and orchids share high wire at Selby

The Ringling teams up with Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to add a circus element to its annual orchid show.
by: Andréa Martone A+E Contributor

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages. Step right up!

The theme is unique: vintage Ringling circus posters amid a sea of 600 live orchards that work in harmony with one another at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens' annual Orchid Show, which runs Oct. 9 to Nov. 28.

A collaboration with the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and Selby Gardens, the show is called "Aerialists from the Tree Top to the Big Top.

In the gardens' conservatory, visitors can meander through tree-top canopies woven with orchids that are displayed with the artistry and grand spectacle of circus aerialists.

"The show is the perfect intersection of entertainment and nature in a natural environment," says Jennifer Rominiecki, Selby's president and CEO.

The setting and props for this show are the creation of Angel Lara, the vice president for greenhouse horticulture and the exhibit's main designer. Visitors step into the conservatory by going through an illuminated ticket booth. Once inside, a three-ring circus showcases a clever and playful variety of orchids, bromeliads and ferns perched upon trapezes, high wires, ladders and colorful silks — all reminiscent of Ringling circus performers.

Visitors can relate the beauty and diversity of epiphytic orchids to the drama and theatricality of 1920s-era aerial acts, depicting wire walkers and trapeze artists. The display features an abundance of orchids of bright colors and bold patterns suspended from various heights and suggestive of certain aerial acts. Backdrops include theatrically lit vintage posters strategically placed throughout.

"In addition to the beauty of live orchids, we're looking at some of the finest examples of fine art in the world."

— David Berry, Selby's vice president for visitor engagement and chief museum curator

"In addition to the beauty of live orchids, we're looking at some of the finest examples of fine art in the world," says David Berry, Selby's vice president for visitor engagement and chief museum curator.

The colored lithographs — some dating back to the late 19th century — were once used as advertisement in cities across the U.S. to herald the coming of the circus to their town. The history of the circus comes to life through the vast and varied collections, which are only a small part of 8,000 vintage circus posters from The Ringling Museum, the first in the country in 1948 to document the rich history of the circus.

"This exhibit is a wonderful way for us to make parallels with the circus and botanicals," Berry says. "It encourages us to experience the show from two separate perspectives. And it works."

Moving forward from the tropical conservatory into the main museum's two rooms, visitors will see seven vintage posters on loan from the Tibbals Circus Collection at The Ringling Museum, including one wall of glass jars holding preserved "spirit specimens" (orchids preserved in alcohol) owned by Selby. Selby Gardens maintains more than 35,000 of these, the second-largest collection of its kind.

"Orchids are an amazing species, and there are 28,000 of them," says Selby's Mike McLaughlin, the senior vice president of horticulture. "The diversity is mind-bending and ranges from the size of a pin-head to the size of a VW Bug. And let's not forget about their scent."

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I'm the Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Observer. I am a graduate of The University of Vermont and a former Editor-in-Chief of a large weekly newspaper chain in Long Island. Music, Arts and Entertainment permeate my blood.

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