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Ringling Museum of Art: Gardens & Statuaries

June 18, 2012 5 Comments by Regina

I live in Orlando and for years have been planning to go see the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, FL.  On Memorial Day weekend, my family and I were going to St. Augustine but a tropical storm was bearing down that way and so we decided to head to the altogether opposite coast, Sarasota.  (Everyone in my family takes storms seriously.)

I do want to say that the name, Ringling Museum of Art, may have some misdirection.  There is so much more to this “attraction” — it leads one to believe it is simply one museum but it’s actually the former residence of John and Mable Ringling (of circus fame) whose vast residential complex of 20 acres was gifted to the State of Florida and is now open year-round to visitors.  They have incredible gardens and statuaries as well as two museums (Art and Circus, the latter surprisingly entertaining), a historic theater and the Ca d’Zan mansion.  I originally thought it was going to be one blog post but after spending the day there, realized it would take several. We start today with the Gardens & Statuaries.

  Wandering around, you see beautiful statues, flowers, ponds and trees. There are over 200 varieties of trees and over 40,000 plantings.

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On the right above, you will see a banyan tree that is part of the Millenium Tree Trail.  Banyan trees are fascinating – if you will see the top right of the right pic above, a branch is growing out of existing branch and travelling downwards into the ground. Once there, they dig in, take root and become stronger by forming a “new” tree.  This is how the banyan tree grows and takes over an area.  Below, you will see how it has taken over a statue in its path.

I’ve put close-ups below.  As the tree grows, you can see it encroaching other statues.  It’s quite disconcerting and in my active imagination, I could almost hear the stone angel-child hopelessly crying for help in a despairing, breath-deprived stone-rasping-on-stone voice.

Click to Enlarge

There is also a beautiful rose garden that was completed in 1913.  It is 27,225 square feet and is patterned after “a traditional Italian circular garden design”. The roses were blooming while we were there and the fragrance was intoxicating.  What a beautiful experience!

The Museum of Art itself has an amazing center courtyard filled with bronze replicas of Greek and Roman sculptures.  With great music playing and lively chatter, a local company was setting up an evening wedding reception while we were there.

One tiny corner of the courtyard...

Reception preparations are underway.  You can see a bronze cast of Michelangelo’s David right behind the (rather huge) screen.  Below is one of the trees where chandeliers (can you see it?) and lanterns were being hung.  The photo doesn’t do it justice but it was so, so pretty.  I literally wanted to hide in a closet somewhere just so I could just see the evening reception in all its glory but my family nixed that idea.  [@#%$#&!!!!!!!! Ahem.]

Lovely light fixtures being hung from the trees. Imagine them lit up romantically at night...

The Dwarf Garden is a very pretty walkway with statues of dwarves – some are serious, others are playful and most look like they have just the right amount of mischief planned to make you uneasy.  [Have you ever seen a Dr. Who episode called "Blink"? You won't ever trust a statue again. Yes, I know it's not real...but I'm not going down into the basement if I hear a noise either. ]  One wrong turn and you might miss this — it’s a bit hidden.

The Dwarf Garden

Mable Ringling oversaw the construction of the complex with architect, Dwight James Baum.  She also created a secret garden for herself, where she would entertain her friends.  She wasn’t known to seek the spotlight in society and so I can just imagine how this area might be just the right speed for her.  A peek is below.

Please do be sure to visit the Ringling website for more information on the entire complex but know I will be providing some information in the individual posts as well.  We have the museums, theater and mansion to get through yet.  In 2000, the estate was turned over from the State of Florida to Florida State University, which established Ringling as one of the largest museum/university complexes in the nation and saved it from certain ruin.  (Visiting the estate supports FSU, not the Ringling Circus — I just want to point that out.)  Whenever I talk about it, everyone who has visited joins in on the rhapsodic chorus — I haven’t heard of a disappointed visitor yet.  If you are in Sarasota, please do consider making this part of your itinerary. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s post and that you enjoy the upcoming ones. Have a great day, Everyone!


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  1. Ann @ Plumsiena
    914 days ago

    I had no idea this even existed.

    It’s so nice to see when treasures like this are saved and cared for.

  2. Regina
    910 days ago

    Ann – I *knew* you’d like this post. I thought of you as I was walking in the gardens. You can see the amount of work it took (and takes) to create such natural beauty. I’ll have to call you — lots to chat about. :)

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Ca’ d’Zan – Part One | Fauxology on June 25, 2012 at 3:01 am

    [...] encompasses the grand home Ca’ d’Zan in the same complex.  We recently profiled their gardens and statuaries. Walking up to Ca' d'Zan with a pair of sphinxes leading the [...]

  2. By Ca’ d’Zan – Part Two | Fauxology on September 10, 2012 at 3:01 am

    [...] I think I might have mentioned that I went to Sarasota’s Ringling Museum recently. (As in this post on the incredible gardens and this first post on the Ca’ d’Zan interiors.) There’s a few more features yet [...]

  3. By Foyer Ceiling at Ca’ d’Zan | Fauxology on December 21, 2012 at 3:01 am

    [...] where a visit to the Ringling Museum was a must on the list.  We’ve previously seen their gardens and a bit of the Ringling family home, Ca’ d’Zan (Part 1 and Part 2).  This is [...]

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