Sunday, January 16, 2011

Circus Abuse

I went to the Amway Center (400 West Church Street) to see if there were any animal cruelty demonstrators. Ringling Brothers Circus was in town. As I approached I could hear an announcer saying, "Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth!" I was taken to the circus only once as a child, but the memory flooded back and my pulse quickened. There was a cluster of perhaps 5 demonstrators as soon as I arrived. I asked if there were more demonstrators and was told there were. I walked around for a bit expecting to find a larger crowd. I returned and decided this woman in the blood red jacket was the perfect subject. I let her know I would be sketching her and then got to work. She stood silently the whole time I sketched. There was no shouting in protest, just a silent stoic vigil. The photograph on her protest poster showed handlers choking and using a sharp billhook on a baby elephant. This protest was organized by the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida.

The brochure handed out by the protesters stated that Ringling had consistently racked up U.S. Department of Agriculture violations including: improper handling of animals, inadequate housing, failure to provide veterinary care and failure to allow inspections. Since 1992 twenty six Asian Elephants, including four babies, died under Ringling's care. The protesters feel circus life is inherently cruel to animals. One elderly woman took a flier and when she realized what it was about she irately gave it back. She then walked on to enter the Amway Center. As I sketched more and more people walked by to the circus. Most people ignored the demonstrators, a few asked to take pictures. It was very cold that night. I put up my hood and I imagined the woman in red must have been freezing. A homeless man from Tennessee asked me if I knew where he could find a meal. On the walk over to Amway I had noticed a long line for food behind the Greek Orthodox Church. I offered the man directions. He shook his head and walked away.

The circus animals don't perform because they want to, but rather because they fear the painful punishment they will get if they don't. Kept confined and fearful in chaotic, loud and unnatural environments the animals are always on edge. Trained to amuse they sometimes lash out against the abuse, and the resulting rampages have lead to property damage, injuries and deaths. A policeman walked up to me and asked how I was doing, we had talked at several other events and he liked my work. He asked what I planned to sketch tomorrow and I told him, "The Highland Games." He told me he is Scottish and he wished he could go, but he was always working. When I finished, I showed the woman in red the sketch and she was amused. As I walked away down Church Street, family's flooded by me all taking their toddlers to see " The Greatest Show on Earth."

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


Jeremy said...

Thank you for sketching and posting this, Thor. Many people would rather turn a blind eye to the abuse of animals and pretend that the animals are having fun or something, I guess. Anyway, I think it's great that you wrote about this angle of the circus coming to town.

Anonymous said...

Thor, I love your sketch! Thank you for your care and compassion in portraying the circus, our protest and the message we were advocating. I was disappointed today when I read an article in the Orlando Weekly that criticized the protestors and reported that "elephants are treated like rock stars", which is totally untrue. Thank you for your sincerity and for helping to raise awareness.

Anonymous said...

I really like the drawing, it depicts those of us who did withstand the cold for the sake of the animals. While I realize that ALL of the animals need to be free, the highlight that night was about elephants. The main purpose of an anti circus rally is to educate people about the horrors the animals endure in the name of profits. That is true of ALL of the animals, not just the elephants. We will protest until ALL the animals are free!

Anonymous said...

I like the circus.

John said...

Wow, this is so cool. We are all going back to protest Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. (January 9-12). If you would like to come draw again one of those days, man would I appreciate it. There will be a lot more than 5 of us there this time!