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Creating the Freak Show: The Rough and Ready Sideshow by Ransom & Mitchell

Duo Ransom & Mitchell brought their unique flavor of photography and digital art to the freak show with the Rough and Ready Sideshow series.
Miss Heady L'Amour from the Rough & Ready Sideshow series

The Rough & Ready Sideshow series from photographer Jason Mitchell and digital artist Stacey Ransom reinvents the vintage cabinet cards of yore with a colorful whimsy that is both alluring and bizarre.

To create the intricate details of these circus portraits, Ransom & Mitchell sew costumes, build sets and fabricate props, then digitally paint the final touches that couldn’t be done in studio.

The Ransom & Mitchell retrospective exhibition at Vanilla Gallery in Ginza, Japan ends tomorrow.

Rough & Ready Sideshow by Ransom & Mitchell

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A menagerie of timeless tales and rare specimens lovingly recreated in remembrance of the once-common traveling carnivale, thus saved from the obscurity of antiquity.

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Miss Heady L’Amour

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Maharishi Mistari

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Fiji Mermaid

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Jewels of the Nile

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Miz Beardsley

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Spidora

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The Final Act

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The Pharaoh’s Daughters

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Two Halves & A Whole

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Doctor Huckleberry Schuxley

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Shkiper & the Maneken

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Amazonia Strong

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Bonkers Black

More work by Ransom & Mitchell here: www.ransommitchell.com

Ohio Big Foot Girl

Fannie Mills Ohio Big Foot Girl

Misses Fannie Mills (August 30, 1860 or 1859 – 1899), known as “The Ohio Big Foot Girl,” had a disease called Milroy Disease which caused for legs and feet to become gigantic. She was born in Sussex, England and had two sisters. Both other sisters were born normally. She was married to William Brown in 1886. William was born in 1834 and died in 1904. Fannie was only 39 when she died. She had a baby in August of 1887, but it died. Fannie’s feet got to be 17 inches long, until she died in 1899.

The Sideshow Banner Art of Fred G. Johnson

Rosemary's Baby sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Rosemary’s Baby sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson

Though considered nothing more than mere signage by the artists who created them, sideshow banners have come to embody the curious and quirky spirit of early circus and freak show Americana with their colorful and exaggerated promises of sword swallowers, magic, mermaids, bearded ladies, five-legged cows, two-headed calves and much more all alive for your shock and amazement inside for just five cents!

Fred G. Johnson is considered to be one of the finest sideshow banner painters in the history of the circus and sideshow world. He had a 65-year career of banner painting, creating many works that are still prized by collectors and museums around the world. He worked for the O. Henry Tent and Awning Company in Chicago for 40 years from 1934 – 1974.

Known as the ‘Picasso’ of circus art, Fred G. Johnson designed advertisements for the Century of Progress Exposition, the 1933 World’s Fair held in Chicago, the city’s old White City and Riverview amusement parks, traveling shows throughout the country, and all the great circuses, including Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey and the Clyde Beatty Circus.

His banners have been exhibited at the State of Illinois Building, some now hang in museums, and others were auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York.

A native of Chicago, Mr. Johnson started running errands at age 14 for the United States Tent & Awning Co. Banner painter H. D. Cummings was looking for someone to clean pots and do odd jobs and took Mr. Johnson on. The older man taught him to paint, something he learned well without any formal training in figure or scene drawing.

STORY CONTINUED BELOW




2 headed calf sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Two headed calf

Tiny world's smallest cow sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
World’s smallest cow

Tanagra mermaid sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Tanagra live mermaid

Sylvia big footed girl sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Sylvia, big footed girl

Spider Girl and Sponge Girl sideshow double banner by Fred G. Johnson
Spider Girl and Sponge Girl

Siamese twins sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Robert and Ralph, siamese twins

Professor Milo magician sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Professor Milo

Pinhead sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Pinhead

Percy Pape sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Percy Pape

Ostrich Girl sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Ostrich girl

Obby Dobby sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Obby Dobby

mountain sheep sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Wild European mountain sheep

Monkeys and porcupines sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Monkeys and porcupines

Master of Magic sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Master of magic

Master juggler sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Master juggler

Lobster family sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Father and daughter lobster family

Last Mile Death Row sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
The last mile Death Row

jungle land sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Jungle land voodoo torture

Jeri and Boy Wonder sideshow double banner by Fred G. Johnson

human pin cushion sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Human pin cushion

human corkscrew sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Human corkscrew

Harold Smith sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Harold Smith music from glasses

Half man sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Half man

Half girl sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Half girl

World's strangest birth frog baby sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Human frog baby, world’s strangest birth

Freak oddities sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Freak oddities

Falabella horse sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Falabella horse

Dwarf african goat sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Dwarf African goat

Dolly Reagan sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Dolly Reagan, half lady half baby

Defies death sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Defies death

Cemetary creep sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Tomb of terror cemetery creep

Cavalcade world of wonders sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Cavalcade od wonders, freaks past and present

Cardiff giant sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Cardiff giant

Buried alive premature burial sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Buried alive

Brenda Beatty bearded lady sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Beared lady Brenda Beatty

Armless girl sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Armless girl

5 legged cow sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
5 legged cow

3 legged chicken sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
3 legged chicken

2 headed baby sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
2 headed baby

Nellie the dog child sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Nellie the dog child

Fred Johnson was the oldest living sideshow banner artist until his death at 98 years old in 1990.

His works were exhibited in July of 1989 at the State of Illinois Art Center Gallery as Fred G. Johnson’s Sideshow Banners. They also hang in the circus museums in Baraboo, Wisconsin and Sarasota, Florida.

Among his banners auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1981 were Minnie Ha-Ha the Monkey Girl, Josephine the Electric Girl, Albert the Rubber Skin Man, The World`s Strangest Married Couple and Dickie the Penguin Boy.