- Associated Press - Saturday, October 15, 2016

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - On the second floor of the Pink Palace museum, monkeys, clowns and trapeze artists lay on a table waiting to put on a show again.

That may not happen until March 2018, when Tim Giles and the Memphis Pink Palace Family of Museums finish the restoration of the Clyde Parke Miniature Circus.

Giles has been charged with restoring the circus back to working order, a process he began a year ago.

“It’s an amazing artifact,” said Steve Pike, director of museums. “It’s really a great piece to teach kids about science, because what makes it run is simple machines.”

A $500,000 grant from the Plough Foundation will allow the museum to fix the circus and eventually transport it to its new home on the second floor of the Memphis Pink Palace Mansion, Pike said. It has not operated in the museum since the 1970s, he said.

The circus is currently separated from the public by windows, but visitors can occasionally catch Giles tinkering with the gears, chains and sprockets underneath the green deck where the figurines and tents rest.

On Wednesday, Giles worked on the mechanical underpinnings of the table, which serves as the ground for the 15-foot “big top” tent and menagerie made of duck cloth. An American flag and four others flew from the big top, which held a tiny audience underneath.

Parke lost his job as an accountant during the Great Depression, and in 1930 began work on the mini-circus as a chance to make some money, Pike said. A work in progress, Parke brought the circus to many fairs and events but did not officially complete it until 26 years later. Parke hand carved and painted each of the thousands of pine wood figurines that make up the circus.

According to an informational booklet published by the “friends of the Memphis Pink Palace Museum,” the finished circus has 50 horse-drawn wagons, 100 horses, 60 circus animals, and thousands of audience members and performers.

Pike described Giles as “not only a master craftsman, but a detective.” Giles is using notes left behind by Parke to put the circus back together, but a lot of the work requires improvisation, he said. Parke used whatever he could find to build the circus - some wheels are even made of checker game pieces. The museum plans to leave everything above the deck (figurines, tents, etc) intact, but the mechanical pieces underneath will be repaired, restored or replaced as necessary.

Before she brings a figurine to the museum basement to clean, museum curator Laurel Albrecht notes where each piece was located on the circus grid and marks it on a note card. Then, she cleans of the individual pieces, using a cotton swab and distilled water to clean the years of dirt and dust covering each item.

“We made a decision pretty early on to keep the restoration as mild as possible,” Albrecht said, adding that if some figurines have chipped paint, they will remain that way to preserve the circus’ authenticity.

Once cleaned, the figurine goes back up to Giles‘ work space and Albrecht places it in its appropriate place on a spot along the wall, which is marked with painter’s tape for each part of the circus deck grid.

“It’s hard to keep it all straight, but I made up a grid with numbers and letters according to how it’s set up,” she said. “We’re trying to over label everything.”

A tentative opening date is March 1, 2018, when the Pink Palace Mansion reopens to the public after renovations. Pike said the museum has yet to finalize a schedule for how often the circus will run - it depends on what kind of shape the parts are in when it’s finished.

Parke built the circus to run a few times a year, so it will probably not be a daily event, Pike said.

“It will never be operational all the time,” said Wesley Creel, administrator of programs.

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Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com

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