Little Big Top

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Much has been written about the magical appeal traveling circuses had for small-town America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but little of it is as eloquent as the tribute shown here: a miniature circus carved during the 1920s by Albert Kveck.

Born in Olivia, Minnesota, in 1903, Kveck took up woodcarving as a teenager. According to a hometown newspaper, he exhibited his work at county fairs, where it was “favorably commented upon by thousands of people.” Kveck attended art school in Chicago, but he seems to have been unable to translate his particular gift into a profession. He soon returned to Minnesota and began a career as a house painter, occasionally drawing or carving animals in his spare time. He died in 1977.

Kveck’s genius lies not just in carefully observed details like the stance of a wide-hipped ringmaster in jodhpurs (opposite), but in an overall clarity of vision that puts him in the very first rank of American folk sculptors. He is well served in these atmospheric pictures by Jim Secreto, a Michigan photographer who owns many of the carvings.—Jane Colihan