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More than 250,000 items added to Circus Collection

artwork of trainer surrounded by performing polar bears

Original poster art for Sparks Circus used to promote the circus. The item is part of a donation by Herbert Ueckert to the Circus and Allied Arts Collection at Milner Library.

A dedicated circus fan has donated more than 250,000 items to Illinois State University’s Circus and Allied Arts Collection at Milner Library.

Herbert Ueckert of Sarasota, Florida, who has been collecting for decades, gifted a vast collection that contains everything from artists’ original sketches of professional circus posters, and candid and publicity photographs, to clown props and performer’s costumes.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many spangles and feathers in my life. It’s fantastic,” said Head of Special Collections and Rare Books Maureen Brunsdale. “The passion of Herb and his partner Neil Cockerline is the circus, its history, and its impact on society. Circuses helped to entertain and inspire. With the collection we will continue to inspire for generations to come.”

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Ueckert knew of Milner’s circus collection, one of the largest special collections of its type in existence. “We never make a gift without first researching all of the institutions that we are considering, which we did with our circus collection,” said Ueckert, who explored the facilities, resources, and met with Special Collections staff. “After our research and planning, our choice was easy and that’s why we asked Milner Library to consider our collection for a gift.”

After spending his career working in the school libraries of Las Vegas, Ueckert said he was drawn to Illinois State’s collection because it also serves as a resource for classes. “We are absolutely thrilled that they have accepted our collection and look forward to seeing the items shared and used for educating ISU students and the larger public,” he said.

woman standing next to open steamer trunk

Maureen Brunsdale explains the steamer trunk used by circus performers during travels. The item is part of the Circus and Allied Arts Collection at Milner Library.

“The possibilities are endless,” noted Brunsdale. “Students in Family and Consumer Sciences can explore the construction techniques of historic costumes, the School of Theatre students can study the performer contracts and publicity stills, School of Art students can examine original poster art.”

While working to make items available to students and classes, Brunsdale and the Special Collections staff will work to design exhibits around the new items. “We have a jeweled elephant blanket,” she said in awe. “It is enormous, as you can imagine, and gorgeous. People need to see it.”

To find out more about this collection and the Circus and Allied Arts Collection at Milner Library, contact Brunsdale at (309) 438-2871.

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