Sideshow oddities come to town

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Sideshow oddities come to town

By SANDRA WALSH<br>swalsh@beaufortgazette.com<br>843-986-5538
Published Friday, March 2, 2007 in The Island Packet  |  315 Words  |  /IslandPacket/news/local

Step right up!'
Local artist Rebecca Davenport has created a world of freaks and geeks through 18 paintings mimicking historic sideshow banner art as a part of an exhibit -- Davenport's Exhibition of Human Oddities -- presented by Historic Beaufort Foundation.'
The art will be on display at The Beaufort Museum in The Arsenal on Craven Street through May 3.'
Banner art was used to promote sideshow performers such as the bearded woman and the fat lady, Davenport said.'
In the early 1900s, a handful of companies in New York and Chicago produced the colorful art for carnivals across the nation, including a popular sideshow attached to the Barnum and Bailey circus.'
She said sideshow performers such as fat lady "Sweet Marie" were widely recognized across the U.S.'
"A lot of these performers were real celebrities at one time," Davenport said.'
Davenport, 63, has been painting sideshow banner art since 1999. She said she's not sure what fascinates her about sideshow performers, but that it might have to do with her own "odd" disorder.'
Beginning in her 30s, Davenport suffered from alopecia, the complete or gradual loss of hair from areas of the body where it normally grows.'
"Maybe it's that idea of being different," said Davenport, who is bald.'
Collectively, Davenport said humans are generally drawn to the underbelly of society, still evident, she said, in the modern-day freak show: television talk shows.'
"People like to see it," she said. "It makes them feel better that it's not them somehow; there is some psychology going on there."'
Two years ago, a few pieces from Davenport's sideshow banner art series were exhibited at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. This is the first time the entire collection has been displayed at once.