Reception: Friday, December 13, 5–8 pm
MICA presents a never-before-seen exhibition of personal objects, artifacts, and artworks by one of Baltimore’s most famous citizens, Johnny Eck.
John “Johnny Eck” Eckhardt, Jr. was born as one of two twins 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.
The exhibition is the first ever of its size, showing hundreds of Eck’s works on paper, sculptures, drawings, and paintings— including a selection of his many painted screens, a Baltimore folk art tradition (see the following page for more information). 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 his will to create.
Some of the personal artifacts never before seen in public include hand-carved and painted puppets, wood carving tools, a fully functional miniature train, rare press clippings from his personal scrapbooks, several articles of his clothing, and other objects from his career as a sideshow performer, actor, and magician. The exhibition will also include artwork and sculptures created by others that were inspired by Eck.
“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 of 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.”
Special thanks to Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium Baltimore.
Image: Johnny Eck. (Courtesy the Johnny Eck Museum in Baltimore)
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