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How To Do The John & Mable Ringing Museum of Art

How To Do The John & Mable Ringing Museum of Art

When circus maestro John Ringling settled in Sarasota with his wife, Mable, they decided they needed an art museum on the property to house their considerable collection. It took two years to build the Ringling Museum, which opened in 1927. Today, the museum’s holdings represent works both Western and non-Western, spanning ancient times to the 21st century. The museum has become a cultural touchstone for the Sarasota area and the Gulf Coast, including within its purview everything from a Circus Museum to a high-concept playspace, a historic theater and acre upon acre of waterfront gardens. Here’s how to see it all.

Begin At The Beginning

The best way to see everything that the museum has to offer (28,000 works across 21 galleries) is to take a docent-led tour and get a lay of this sprawling structure. Tours are 40 minutes, and there are a couple of packages that combine admission with tours of both the museum and the Ca’ d’Zan. Another great way to explore the museum is to visit on Mondays, when admission is free. Special exhibitions here run the gamut, from paintings, illustrations and artifacts to video installations and photographic series. The museum recently enhanced the original 21 galleries, paying particular attention to the visitor’s experience by improving lighting, labels and other materials.

Catch The Circus Museum; It’s Always In Town

Grab lunch at the museum’s modern casual restaurant, Muse, dining outdoors to enjoy a view of the grounds. Then take a short walk (or the tram) to the Circus Museum, where the area’s rich circus history is beautifully preserved. Here you’ll discover John and Mable’s railroad car, parade wagons and props, costumes, posters, poles and even a cannon. An interactive wing lets you try out walking on a wire and pretend-drive a clown car. Limited tours of the Circus Museum are also available.

Get Out The Long Lens For The Ca’ d’Zan

At first glance, it’s hard to see John and Mable Ringling’s elaborate, 36,000 square foot mansion as a home. But this glorious ode to a Venetian palace functioned as just that (it was only a few years, though, before Mable died). Give yourself a few hours to explore every nook and cranny of this architectural marvel, from the marble terrace overlooking the bayfront to the 82-foot tower, Venetian glass, decorative tile and period furnishings. We love John’s Tour because it offers the full story on the history and eventual restoration of the residence, helping to put this singular structure in context. A host of events take place at the Ca’ d’Zan, including yoga on the terrace and a popular cocktail hour.

Stop And Smell Mable’s Roses

It would be impossible to visit the museum without meandering over its grounds (all 66 acres), starting with Mable’s beloved rose garden. The best time to visit this special spot is in April and May, when the roses are in full bloom. Otherwise, rove at your own pace, making stops at the Secret Garden, the Dwarf Garden and along the waterfront. You’ll want to be camera-ready as you come upon the remarkable banyan trees and the statues in the courtyard, including the one of David, thought to be the signature sculpture of Sarasota.

The Ringling keeps an active social calendar beyond the museum’s changing exhibits, giving you plenty of excuses to get that membership.