Signed: Signed in pencil, lower right, "John Steuart Curry, 1934".
Credit Line: Transferrred from the Applied Arts Department. In the permanent collection of the Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
In April 1932 Curry joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus as the troupe embarked from Manhattan on its spring tour, traveling for two months to Washington DC, through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and southern Connecticut. Circus themes had inspired artists since the Middle Ages, and especially the circus aerialists had intrigued Curry for years. In 1929 he participated in the Whitney Studio Galleries exhibition The Circus In Paint.
Alfredo Codona, the world famous trapeze artist, was instrumental in making the necessary arrangement for Curry to join the circus. Codona was the only man alive who could perform a triple somersault off the trapeze, to be caught by Lalo, and their partner Vera Bruce (who would become Codona's third wife). In April 1932 Curry befriended Aldredo, who was still grieving for his second wife, the famous circus aerialist Lillian Leitzel, who a few months earlier had fallen to her death during a performance on her signature apparatus, the high rings.
In 1932 Curry painted The Flying Codonas, tempera and oil on composition board, now in the Collection of the Whitney Museum of Art, New York. In 1934 Curry produced the lithograph the "Missed Leap" from the image, thereby broadening many times over the audience .
Male and female acrobats are depicted in the foreground. The female acrobat is falling toward the net in the lower left-hand corner. Note the dim light source located in the upper right-hand corner producing a dramatic theatrical lighting effect. The figures are rounded in a style typified by artists such as Grant Wood, Christian Petersen, and John Bloom. The Missed Leap can be compared to the leaps of faith that were acceptable to Depression Era farmers. Daily, chances were taken with survival, economic stability, and well-being of family and livestock, these risks evolved into the realm of acceptability similar to the risks taken in the The Missed Leap.
Curry was born in Kansas and began his studies at the Art Institute of Kansas. He subsequently attended the Art Institute of Chicago, Genève College, and the Studio of Schoukhaieff in Paris. In 1932, Curry traveled with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus on a two-month tour through New England and the Mid-Atlantic States, sketching and later painting scenes of circus life. In 1936, Curry became an artist-in-residence, appointed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison to promote art in rural life. Along with fellow Midwestern artists Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, Curry emerged in the 1930s as a preeminent artist of the Regionalist movement.
Perhaps symbolic of the tumultuous times of the Great Depression the acrobats remind viewers of the precariousness of life.
Many permanent collection Depression era prints were originally purchased from the Associated American Artists, Inc., New York City, in the late 1930s for $5.00 each by the Applied Arts Department at Iowa State to utilize as teaching resources. These prints were eventually transferred to the Brunnier Art Museum’s permanent collection.