Loftworks Gallery Presents: The Circus Show

Fri 5/12 @ 5PM

On Fri 5/12, the opening reception of The Circus Show will debut at Loftworks Gallery. An exhibition of photographs by Mike Wilkes, this show is a rare look into the especial life in the circus.

Mike Wilkes, owner of mWILKES Images is a Cleveland-based commercial photographer and videographer. He has been part of the commercial advertising community in Cleveland since the ’80s. Throughout his career, Mike has always been involved in personal projects, which help him continue to grow creatively and visually. A graduate of Ohio University’s Fine Art Department, Mike has always been fascinated with the constant puzzle of what makes visual communication successful by capturing the exceptional in the ordinary.

Loft works Gallery, a newly renovated gallery that opened in AsiaTown in October 2016, represents both emerging and established artists. By providing flexible options for those interested in showing their work in a way that truly fits each artist, Loftworks also rents space for small-scale meetings and events and host “pop-up shops” for retailers and craftspeople.

“It made sense to do the show now to commemorate the circus closing,” says Hailey Bickett, assistant gallery director at Loftworks. “Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will hold their last show on Sunday May 21st. Most people have some connection and memories regarding this 146-year-old tradition, so there is a certain sentimental quality that we all share as it comes to a close. All controversy aside, Loftworks Gallery will celebrate this tradition by revealing these unique photographs and providing a space for Mike’s stories to be shared.”

In a true journalistic style, The Circus Show is where art and history intersect. It illustrates character studies of those in a transitioning entertainment landscape and the nomadic lifestyle of a community that traveled the country by rail.

“Early in my career, I started out as a photojournalist and was looking for the next grand project to sink my teeth into,” says Wilkes. “While in Florida, someone told me about the Ringling Brothers winter quarters in Sarasota, Florida — and there it was!” Mike continues. “Having worked through college for a trucking company loading docks, I presented myself as a laid-off teamster who was just looking for a job. I was hired on to the circus as a roustabout with no hint of any photographic interests. I waited until a fellow worker suggested that once we head out on the road, I should bring a camera because ‘you won’t believe the stuff you’re gonna see.’ That was the opening for packing my old beat up Nikon F and 30 rolls of film.”

In addition to Mike’s photographs, Loftworks Gallery will display his old jumpsuit, circus ID badge, and his old beat-up Nikon, as well as a feature written about him in the Plain Dealer in 1983 by writer Brian Albrecht.

“This show is really special because of the rare glimpse into circus life Mike’s photographs portray,” exudes Hailey. “They’re not photographs of the circus performances. They’re a peek into the life behind the scenes and a glimpse into who the people were that actually made the performance run — the roustabouts,” Hailey continues. “Mike traveled with the circus as a roustabout in the early ’80s. This was a risk, because if he was caught with his camera, he would be kicked out. So he did not bring out his camera for the first two weeks. Slowly, as things progressed, he began to earn their trust, enabling him to capture the circus and its people in what is now known as The Circus Show.” 

“After 146 years, there’s a sadness to see the passing of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. This is a rare opportunity to experience what it was like to actually ‘run away and join the circus’,” Mike concludes.

The show’s opening reception is Fri 5/12 5-8pm. It will run through Sun 5/21.  The opening and exhibit are free and open for all to come enjoy. All of Mike’s photographs will be available for purchase. Gallery hours are Fridays 5-8pm, Saturdays 2-8pm, Sundays 11am-3pm, or by appointment (email

Loftworks Gallery

mWILKES Images

Center map

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