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Posts Tagged ‘sideshow banner’


Vintage Sideshow Banner: Voltess, The Girl Who Defies Electricity circa 1930. Millard & Bulsterbaum, 2894 W 8th St. Coney Island via Urban Country

This vintage Millard and Bulsterbaum banner for “Voltess, The Girl Who Defies Electricity” was painted for Sam Wagner’s World Circus Sideshow in Coney Island. Variously known as Electra, Electricia and Voltara, the act features a girl who is said to be able to withstand high voltage and shoot sparks from her fingertips due to having been struck by lightning. The banner, which measures approximately eight by five, is offered for sale by Urban Country.

Algernon Millard and John Bulsterbaum established their Coney Island shop around 1915 at 2894 W 8th Street and were in business through the Depression. Their ads proclaimed “We Paint Banners That Get Top Money for Carnivals and Circus.” The studio was credited with introducing liberal use of orange paint and bold lines that made their banners visible from clear across the midway.

Millard and Bulsterbaum

Millard and Bulsterbaum, 2894 W 8th Street, 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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Fire Eater Sideshow Banner

Fire Eater Sideshow Banner © Marie Roberts. Photo by AmusingtheZillion.com

If you happen to be in Chelsea, stop by Blue Mountain Gallery to see this lovely fire eater sideshow banner by Marie Roberts, though you have to know where to look. Along with two smaller banners, the former advertisement for the Coney Island Circus Sideshow hangs on the back wall adjacent to the desk. It’s an extra added attraction to the main exhibition “Occupied and Unwelcome,” a collaboration by Deborah Stern (Tucson, Arizona) and Marie Roberts (Brooklyn, NY) that merges the landscapes of Zuccotti Park with the Sonoran Desert. The show is on view through October 27th.

Blue Mountain Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, 4th floor, New York, NY 10001. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-6pm. Phone 718-486-4730.


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