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Posts Tagged ‘folk art’

Spook-A-Rama Cyclops

Spook-A-Rama Cyclops on Display at Coney Island History Project, March 24, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Spook-A-Rama’s vintage Cyclops head is on view at the Coney Island History Project on Sunday along with other artifacts that survived Sandy. The iconic eye is still operational. The eye slyly moves back and forth in the manner of a Kathakali dancer. Meanwhile, the dark ride in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park was carefully rebuilt after flood damage from Sandy and has a fabulous new animatronic dragon atop its roof as seen in this video by Jay Singer.

Spook-A-Rama’s Pretzel cars and track are back and some vintage props were combined with new stunts in a way that remains true to the spirit of Coney’s last classic dark ride. The Cyclops was one of the original figures atop the 1950s ride but it was retired decades ago. The head resurfaced a couple of years ago to be inducted into the Coney Island Hall of Fame and was later put on display in front of Spook-A-Rama. The most recent resident of the dark ride’s roof was a giant skeleton. In the photo below, taken in Wonder Wheel Park just a few weeks after Sandy, you can see Sandy’s high water mark on the Cyclops teeth. The marks are still visible today.

Spook-A-Rama's Cyclops

Spook-A-Rama’s Cyclops Survived the Super Storm. Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Coney Island. November 17, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Related posts on ATZ…

March 13, 2013: Coney Island 2013: New Ghouls Mingle with Old in Rebuilt Spook-A-Rama

November 21, 2012: Coney Island Post-Sandy: Flooded Spook-A-Rama to Get New Stunts

November 9, 2012: Update on Coney Island’s Amusement Area After Sandy

October 30, 2012: Photo Album: Hurricane Sandy’s Aftermath in Coney Island

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Sideshow Banner Guitar

Sideshow Banner Art Painted on Martin Guitar by Johnny Meah. Copyright © Johnny Meah

You’ve heard of player pianos but have probably never come across a player guitar till now. This one-of-a-kind piece of sideshow banner guitar art painted by Johnny Meah aka The Czar of Bizarre is up for auction on eBay under the category Art, Direct from the Artist.

As the auction description explains, this is a Martin guitar that was discarded by the manufacturer and given to Johnny Meah to decorate for a fundraising event in 2010. The guitar can’t be played but it looks great displayed so that both sides and the edges are visible. And it takes up a lot less space than a vintage sideshow banner which was typically eight feet tall by ten feet wide. The artist says the guitar took about the same amount of time to make as a full-size banner which would sell for upwards of $3000. A trompe l’oeil coin slot wryly invites the viewer to drop a penny in the Martin Player Guitar:”Press Red Buttons for Selections — Watch It Work!”

Now living in Safety Harbor, Florida, Johnny Meah spent many years on the road with carnivals and circuses, working as a showpainter as well as a sideshow sword swallower and fire eater. As a young man, he worked for a brief season with my concessionaire parents, and his father Hal Meah, a sketch artist who set up his easel at the Connecticut fairs on our route, taught me how to draw. By the time I caught up with Johnny again in the late 1990s, his sideshow banners were being exhibited in art galleries and museums.

In a Q & A that we did for Icon Magazine, Johnny said only about 200 of the 2000 or so banners he’d painted for midway shows had survived: “Since the actually collectibility of banners is a relatively recent phenomenon, I can’t get too upset about it. In the ’40s and ’50s they used to stick old banners under trucks to catch oil drippings. I literally remember doing it myself.” Visit Johnny Meah’s website for news from the Czar of Bizarre.

Art by Johnny Meah

Martin Player Guitar Art By Johnny Meah. Copyright © Johnny Meah

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Related posts on ATZ...

April 18, 2012: Rare & Vintage: A Neon Sword Swallower’s Sideshow Banner

November 23, 2011: Artifact of the Day: The Lure of Carnival Signage

November 11, 2011: Up for Auction: Rack of Vintage Carnival Knockdown Dolls

May 8, 2011: Up for Auction: Sideshow Banners by Johnny Meah

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Sword Swallower Banner attributed to Nieman Eisman. Slotin Folk Art Auction, April 21, 2012

A rare and unusual “Champion Sword Swallower” banner attributed to Nieman Eisman, a master of the Chicago style of banner painting from the 1920s through the mid-1950s, is up for auction this weekend at Slotin Folk Art. The circa 1930s-1940s banner conveys the danger of this sideshow act by depicting the performer downing multiple swords from his arsenal as well as a glowing neon tube. While sword swallowing is an ancient art, electricity is a potent symbol of the modern age. As soon as the neon tube was invented in 1936, neon-tube swallowing became a sideshow craze. When the stage is darkened, the eerie glow of the neon illuminates the performer’s neck and chest, making it convincingly clear that the sword swallower is not up to any tricks.

When ATZ saw Johnny Meah perform this dramatic feat at the Barnum Museum a dozen years ago we were stunned. Fifteen years earlier in a carnival sideshow, a neon tube exploded inside him. When someone tried to wrench it out of his throat, shards of glass cut his windpipe. Blood gushed from his mouth onto the stage. Despite the physical hazards of the profession and the potentially fatal effects of neon, the art of sword swallowing is “not totally physical. In fact, very little of it is physical,” Meah told ATZ. Among the Kings and Queens of Swords whose bravura performances with neon we’re fortunate to have seen are Natasha Veruschka (“The World’s Only Sword Swallowing Belly Dancer”), Johnny Fox, Keith Nelson of the Bindlestiff Family Circus and The Great Fredini of Coney Island USA.

Neon sword

Swallowing a Neon Sword, Detail of Sword Swallower Banner attributed to Nieman Eisman. Slotin Folk Art Auction, April 21, 2012

Although this banner was not painted for a specific performer, it reminds us of the story of Prince Neon– William Knoll — who claimed to be the world’s first neon-tube swallower. He was also presumably among the first to be injured when, in July of 1936, a two-foot-long neon tube broke inside him just before the electricity was turned on. SWORD SWALLOWER DOES IT TOO WELL, SURGEONS TAKE FOOT OF GLASS TUBING FROM STOMACH was the headline of an item that flashed across the wire. Later on, Knoll “put himself out of business” with neon as we say on the midway. “A Daring Exhibition” indeed.

vintage sideshow banner

Detail of Sword Swallower Banner attributed to Nieman Eisman. Slotin Folk Art Auction, Aptil 21, 2012

According to the auction catalog, the banner was rescued from oblivion by the consignor in the 1970s and later attributed to Nieman Eisman by sword swallower and banner painter Johnny Meah and banner dealer Teddy Varndell:

In late 2003, the consignor contacted banner artist, as well as technical adviser on the HBO series “Carnivale,” Johnny Meah by email, and it was his opinion that Nieman Eisman was the artist of my banner. He later forwarded the materials to Edward “Teddy” Varndell, banner dealer and co-author of Freaks, Geeks and Strange Girls: Sideshow Banners of the Great American Midway. Mr. Varndell also believed my banner to be by Eisman.

In the early 1970’s the consignor worked at a TV station in production. In the prop room behind the studio, he found this “carny” banner, back-side up, covering a pile of stacked lumber. With the station manager’s OK, he replaced it with another tarp and he has had the banner since then. During early days at the TV station, traveling carnivals or circuses would bring performers, props and animals to the TV studio for promotions (back when productions were “live”). This banner was apparently left behind during one of these shows. Johnny Meah said circus banners in the ’50s and ’60s were considered so disposable they were often used under circus trucks to sop up oil leaks.

The pre-sale estimate is $3,000 – $4,000. This weekend’s folk art auction consists of 1,500 lots, with the sideshow banner set to be auctioned on Saturday. Slotin Folk Art’s live auction will be held at Historic Buford Hall in Buford, Georgia on April 21 and 22. Absentee, phone and online bidding are also available on auction days.

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Related posts on ATZ...

April 10, 2012: Up for Auction: Collection of Carnival Knockdown Dolls

February 25, 2012: Video: Happy International Sword Swallowers Day!

May 8, 2011: Up for Auction: Sideshow Banners by Johnny Meah

November 16, 2009: Rare & Vintage: Coney Island Sideshow Banner by Dan Casola

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