Original poster art for Sparks Circus is part of a donation to the Circus and Allied Arts Collection.

Retired school librarian donates more than 250,000 circus items to Illinois State University

Materials include costumes, clown props, posters and photos.

A retired school librarian has donated more than 250,000 items to the Circus and Allied Arts Collection at Illinois State University in Normal. 

The university says in a news release that the collection from Herbert Ueckert of Sarasota, Fla., 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,” says Maureen Brunsdale, head of Special Collections and Rare Books. “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.”

Ueckert knew of the circus collection at Illinois State's Milner Library. It is 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,” says Ueckert. “After our research and planning, our choice was easy and that’s why we asked the Milner Library to consider our collection for a gift.”

After spending his career working in school libraries in Las Vegas, Ueckert says 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 says.

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 says. “It is enormous, as you can imagine, and gorgeous. People need to see it.”

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