News & Politics

Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Moves Headquarters—and Brings Its Art Along

William Woodward's large mural that has decorated the lobby of Feld Entertainment for more than two decades will go with the company to its new headquarters in Florida.

Artist William Woodward with his mural, “The Greatest Show on Earth" (left). Woodward removes the mural from the wall with a special tool (right). Photographs by Greg Hudson/Qorvis for Feld Entertainment.

A 24-by-48-foot mural, the largest painted by a single
artist in the 20th century and equal in size to one wall of the Sistine
Chapel in Vatican City, was moved last week from the lobby of
Feld Entertainment in Vienna, Virginia, after being there for
22 years.

“The Greatest Show on Earth,” by artist
William Woodward, is an oil-painting that has been donated to the Ringling Museum. It will be transported to Sarasota, Florida, just as Feld,
a Washington-based company, moves its headquarters there.

The 77-year-old Woodward painted the mural on a simple
scissor scaffolding—a process not unlike the one used by Michelangelo
for the Sistine Chapel but taking less than one fifth the time.
On Monday the painting was gently peeled and scraped from
the wall of the lobby with “giant pastry knives,” “spatulas,”
and, as Woodward calls them, “pizza flippers.”

“Every day at noon, people came down to the lobby to eat
their lunches—even people who didn’t work for Feld Entertainment—to
watch Bill Woodward paint this enormous wall,” recalls owner
Kenneth Feld of the mural’s creation. “[His process] was extraordinary.”

The scene features acrobats, clowns, tightrope
walkers, and jugglers—all artists Woodward met while on tour with the
to photograph inspiration for the design. “Every person
represented in this image are people I knew—most of them [are]
I hired,” says Feld of the scene in the mural.

The painting, begun in 1988, took two years to
complete. Page Conservation, Feld’s chosen restoration group, will touch
the panels and refresh the adhesive on the back; it will then
be transported to the Ringling Museum, its new permanent home.

Built by John Ringling, the museum displays paintings
and sculptures by artists such as Titian, Tintoretto, van Dyck, and
Velázquez, as well as the largest collection of Rubens in the
Western Hemisphere. Just under 400,000 people come to visit
a year.

On losing a beloved piece of his workplace, Feld says,
“No one walked by the lobby without smiling at this mural. Every
when I walked through the front door, I knew that no matter
what I had to face every day, I could glance up at the painting
and be reminded of why we were here, what we are all about, and
how we bring happiness to so many people.”