Charles Stratton, from Bridgeport, Connecticut, was discovered by P.T. Barnum when he was a young child. As he grew, or didn’t, it was apparent Charles suffered from proportionate dwarfism, reaching 89 cm (age 22).
He was known as one of the original international stars, touring the world and even performing for the Queen. His stage name was inspired by the English folklore, Tom Thumb.
Later in life, Stratton had become so famous, he managed to live beyond his disability and become a wealthy gentleman. P.T. Barnum had trained his to be a small gentlemen as part if his act, but Stratton lived by this, and so followed his mentor into freemasonry.
This piece was part of a project looking at Circus Oddities
Have a look….
‘Within the Frame’
Inspired by the freemasonry symbol of the ‘All Seeing Eye’ and an iconic picture frame owned by Stratton.
As you look further into the image, the more you see.
Squares are an important shape within freemasonry, linking to the Ashlar Stones. One stone is smooth, representing perfection - light, knowledge, education. The other is rough and imperfect - representing ignorance and death.
I began to question how Charles Stratton experienced free masonry as himself with his disability would have been seen to be imperfect.
Stratton’s fame continues to live within the P.T. Barnum museum in Stratton’s hometown. This is where I would put an installation for Charles Stratton. Light and shadow represents the hardship Stratton would have gone through to end up with his legacy.
Therefore, I would combine these in order to create a cypher, linking to the mystery of freemasonry. I chose the code to reveal ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ as Stratton was a natural performer at heart and enjoyed being within the spotlight. However, I would also like to show his mannerism and gentlemanly attitude by using polished concrete and possible elements of maple (linking to his custom made piano) in order for the installation to look elegant and sophisticated.
Scale is most important, and so I would make this an impressive size to contrast with Stratton’s small stature but match his impact.