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Maryland Institute College of Art presents largest exhibition featuring sideshow performer Johnny Eck
Johnny on Stool, hand-tinted photo by Johnny Eck, circa 1927. Image courtesy Johnny Eck Museum.
BALTIMORE, MD.- The Maryland Institute College of Art presents 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, takes place through Sunday, March 16, 2014, in Fox Building’s Decker Gallery (1303 W. Mount Royal Ave.).

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 features 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.

John “Johnny Eck” Eckhardt, Jr. was born as one of two twins on August 27, 1911, at his parents’ home in Baltimore. Though healthy, Eck was born with no lower half. Despite his lack of legs, Eck lived a full life as a sideshow performer, artist, photographer, magician, puppeteer, swimmer, gymnast, actor, train conductor and traveler.

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 traveled throughout the United States and Canada, performing with his brother, Robert, until the late 50s. After they phased out their traveling show and arcade, the brothers continued their screen painting and limited their performances to local events. They spent their entire lives together living in the home in which they were born.

“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 displayed 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; Eck’s steamer trunks, stage props and other objects from his career as a sideshow performer, actor and magician. The exhibition also highlights others inspired by Eck, including American cartoonist and illustrator Drew Friedman and American cartoonist and musician Robert Crumb (R. Crumb).

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