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MICA Presents Largest Exhibition Featuring Sideshow Performer Johnny Eck, Dec. 13-March 16

Baltimore Cult Personality Comes to Life Through Artwork, Props, Personal Scrapbooks and More

Posted 10.30.13 by MICA Communications

"Johnny on Stool," hand-tinted photo by Johnny Eck, circa 1927, courtesy Johnny Eck Museum.

BALTIMORE--MICA will present 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, will take place from Friday, Dec. 13, 2013-Sunday, March 16, 2014, in Fox Building's Decker Gallery (1303 W. Mount Royal Ave.), with an opening reception Friday, Dec. 13, 5-8 p.m.

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 will feature 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 to be 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 will also highlight others inspired by Eck, including American cartoonist and illustrator Drew Friedman and American cartoonist and musician Robert Crumb (R. Crumb).

The Amazing Johnny Eck coincides with a second exhibition at MICA that celebrates Baltimore culture. From Friday, Dec. 13, 2013-Sunday, March 16, 2014, the Fox Building's Meyerhoff Gallery (1303 W. Mount Royal Ave.) will house PICTURE WINDOWS ... The Painted Screens of Baltimore and Beyond, which explores the history and cultural significance of the artistic painted screens throughout the city, beginning 100 years ago. As a young man, Eck was a student of Baltimore's original screen painter, William Oktavec, and when he returned from his film career in Hollywood, he picked up where he left off, painting screens for his neighbors and far-flung customers and admirers.

Hours for MICA's galleries, which are free and open to the public, are Mondays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sundays, noon-5 p.m.

MICA's exhibitions are supported by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency dedicated to cultivating a vibrant cultural community where the arts thrive. An agency of the Department of Business & Economic Development, the MSAC provides financial support and technical assistance to non profit organizations, units of government, colleges and universities for arts activities.

Special thanks to Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium Baltimore.

Top image caption: Johnny on Stool, hand-tinted photo by Johnny Eck, circa 1927, courtesy Johnny Eck Museum

The Johnny Eck Museum began collecting Johnny Eck(hardt) material shortly after his twin brother, Robert, died in 1995. Since that time, its goal has been to accumulate anything pertaining to the incredible lives of the Baltimore-born brothers. The wonderful journey has included pouring over hundreds of family letters, photographs, drawings and diaries. Listening to Johnny's audio tapes, 78 rpm records and hearing the stories related from people who knew them. Their impressive story spanned nearly eight decades of the greatest and most tragic events of our times, and, through all the world's ups and downs, they managed their lives with a resilience that many lacked and a sense of pride and will that was unmatched. Ladies and gentlemen, the Johnny Eck Museum wants to share this amazing story through its collection of memorabilia from the personal belongings of Johnny and Robert Eckhardt. johnnyeckmuseum.com

Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students from 49 states and 65 countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies degree and non-credit programs. Redefining art and design education, MICA is pioneering interdisciplinary approaches to innovation, research, and community and social engagement. Alumni and programming reach around the globe, even as MICA remains a cultural cornerstone in the Baltimore/Washington region, hosting hundreds of exhibitions and events annually by students, faculty and other established artists.


Programs accompanying The Amazing Johnny Eck include:

Opening Reception
Friday, Dec. 13, 5-8 p.m.
Fox Building: Decker Gallery, 1303 W. Mount Royal Ave.
Dan Meyer, sword swallower and president of the Sword Swallowers Association International, and Mississippi "half man" Jesse Stitcher will wow the crowd during the opening celebration for The Amazing Johnny Eck.

Film Screening: Freaks
Saturday, March 8, 8 p.m.
Brown Center: Falvey Hall, 1301 W. Mount Royal Ave.
After watching Tod Browning's 1932 film Freaks (64 minutes), starring Johnny Eck, guests are welcome to participate in a Q&A session with panelists Elaine Eff, folklorist and curator of the concurrent PICTURE WINDOWS exhibition; John "Jack" Gaylin, retired carney and longtime friend to Eck; and James Taylor, sideshow historian from Shocked and Amazed!

All programs are free and open to the public.