Dusti Bongé sketch recalls early acting career

Through SeeGreatArt’s partnership with the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation in Biloxi, MS, we learn this week about a side of the artist’s early life as an actress. Analysis of the artwork, as always, comes from Dusti Bongé Art Foundation Executive Director Ligia M. Römer.

Dusti Bongé, National Surety Corporation Diary 1941 – September 24, c. 1941, pastel on paper, 8” x 5 ½”

Another sketch from one of Dusti Bongé’s many sketchbooks that tells a story. In the 1930s and 40s, Dusti loved visiting the circus. As some of you know it ultimately inspired her first phase of surrealist works referred to as the Circus Series. However, she started sketching and painting the circus well before her surrealist period.

Those early sketches of the circus were still more representational, but they already capture the colorful, fantastical, frenetic spectacle involved in the process of setting up the circus, with which Dusti was so fascinated. In this sketch you see various overlapping tent structures, brightly colored circus wagons and wheels, and miscellaneous things.

Others in this datebook feature big tops ornate with flags, elephants, carts and cages. 

It’s possible that, beyond their obvious surreal allure, part of Dusti Bongé’s attraction to the circus was that it reminded her of her early acting days. During that time, one of the jobs she had was traveling with the Lyceum’s Chautauqua circuit throughout parts of the northeast and Midwest.

Although the intent of the circuits was more educational and cultural than that of the circus, which was pure entertainment, the logistics and dynamics of the two were nonetheless very similar. Much like the circus, the traveling troupes would go from town to town, having to set up and brake down tents, stages and all the other trappings associated with their varied performance programs.

Thus, the circus and the circuit offered a very similar visual spectacle with lots of performers, animals, caravans, carts, costumes and sundry contraptions. And, of course, the signature element of both was the tent or big top. As a matter of fact, the circuits were often referred to as the Tent Chautauquas, and Dusti was part of a tent Chautauqua.

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