Massilon Ohio’s Tom Persell maintained his fascination with circus life throughout his 83 years. If he couldn’t join the circus, the next best thing was to build his own in miniature form, which won him critical acclaim for its authenticity and intricacies.
It has been exhibited in shows from Cleveland to Canton and Sarasota, Fla., to Strasburg, Pa., capturing the amazement and wonder of “ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages.”
Circusgoers can step right up to see the red, white and blue big top, with its three rings. It is the centerpiece of the 12′ x 24′ depiction of the Wilson Brothers traveling circus. The tent is partially open to give a perfect view of the events and activities happening inside.
The handmade model took its creator more than 20 years of painstaking patience, dedication and passion to complete. Remarkably, he didn’t start working on it until he was in his mid-50s.
With life-like detailing, the circus features 100 wagons Persell made from basswood and painted and lettered by hand. He collected 1,700 figurines and animals over the years, painting almost all of them in vibrant colors. There is a grandstand full of people, horse-drawn parade floats, candy apple and cotton candy stands, red and white striped umbrella covered tables, police officers keeping the peace, a place to purchase souvenirs and men hawking balloons and ice cream.
There’s even a sideshow along the midway featuring a sword-swallower and fat lady. One of the more important stands is the dining department, which he said is the first to be set up at every circus so cooks can prepare meals for the tent hands and workers.
Using a 1/2-inch scale to equal one foot in real life, every wagon is fully functional with hinged doors and rolling wheels.
Often asked how he even started his ambitious venture, Persell said he would tell people he made a wagon, set it aside, then made another and another. “I just kept building”.
From Jolene Limbacher at the Canton Repository.