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By Culturekiosque Staff

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, 24 JANUARY 2014 — The Maryland Institute College of Art presents a never-before-seen exhibition devoted to the art and artifacts of sideshow performer Johnny Eck (1911–1991), one of Baltimore’s most famous citizens. EntitledThe Amazing Johnny Eck, and on view through 16 March 2014, the exhibition displays hundreds of Eck’s works on paper, sculptures, drawings and paintings—including painted screens, a Baltimore folk art tradition. In addition, The Amazing Johnny Eck features personal objects, film memorabilia and family photographs, thus creating a vivid portrait of Eck. 

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.

Johnny on Stool
Hand-tinted photo by Johnny Eck, circa 1927
Image courtesy Johnny Eck Museum

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).

The Amazing Johnny Eck coincides with a second exhibition at MICA that celebrates Baltimore culture. Also through 16 March 2014, the Fox Building's Meyerhoff Gallery hosts 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.

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 task has included sifting through hundreds of family letters, photographs, drawings and diaries as well as listening to Johnny Eck's audio tapes, 78 rpm records and hearing the stories related from people who knew them.

The Amazing Johnny Eck
Through 16 March 2014

Fox Building’s Decker Gallery
1303 West Mount Royal Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland
Tel: (1) 410 669 92 00

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