Send in the clownsHoliday display features clown collection

By CHRISTINE L. PRATTStaff Writer Published:

Collections of clown ornaments and clown memorabilia from around the world makes up "The Many Faces of Clowns," a special holiday collection being displayed at the Victorian House Museum.

The collection, belonging to Holmes County resident Jim Nussbaum, will be on display in the ballroom through the end of the year, as part of the annual Holidays at the Mansion. Now closed for decorating, the Victorian House reopened Saturday and will be open through Dec. 31 for the special event.

As always, every corner of the 28-room mansion will be decked out for the holiday season, thanks to the time and effort of local businesses and organizations, according to Holmes County Historical Society Executive Director Mark Boley.

In keeping with recent tradition, the third-floor ballroom will feature a special collection -- this year, Nussbaum's menagerie of about 350 clowns.

Nussbaum's interest in clowns was sparked after a 1984 trip to Peru, which led him to Clown Ministry, visiting hospital patients and teaching preschool children. He started a small clown collection, which brought just a little flavor to his Christmas tree.

But, then something happened. "Soon I received clown gifts, personally collected others over the ensuing years, and now there are over 300 of them -- tree decorations, large 'soft' clowns, hanging clowns and standing ones that fill my Nativity scene," according to Nussbaum.

When asked why the marriage between clowns and Christmas, Nussbaum points to a Medieval legend in which a juggler is said to have visited the Nativity statues in a cathedral. Empty-handed, with no gift to bear, the performer decided to juggle for the Holy Family, according to Nussbaum, who said the jugglers' actions prompted the statues to come to life.

Noting the similarities between that story and that of the "Little Drummer Boy" of modern caroling fame, Nussbaum came to his own conclusion about the clowns. "Jugglers lea to medieval court jesters, led to modern day clowns in many cultures."

In displaying the clowns, he places them around Nativities, eight of which he has collected from around the world, allowing each of the characters to bring a gift of juggling, jumping, tumbling and music making to Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus.

"The clowns still come to the crib because it is for us the symbol of life," said Nussbaum. "There are even three traveling Emmet Kelly clowns 'coming from the East' like the three Magi."

"Clowns are very symbolic for us, embodying our deepest emotions and humanity -- joy, fear, strength, weakness, laughter. They call to us and remind us of the best and worst of ourselves, which, in the end, is all that we have to bring to Christmas," according to Nussbaum.

Nussbaum's Nativities have come from around the world -- Peru, China, Mexico, Germany and Chile. His clowns come in a variety of styles -- cloth, wooden, resin, glass, metal.

He said he looks for them wherever he goes, although finding them has gotten more challenging over the years. This year's collection features 35 new clowns, the consequence of a chance finding of a "treasure trove" at 'Tis the Season in Berlin.

His favorite is a hanging jester in a box, which, similar to a Jack-in-the-box, represents for him an element of surprise.

He looks forward to sharing his collection with others in an effort to bring about a better understanding of the interconnectedness of the characters and the holy day.

Holiday hours are Monday-Thursday, 1-4 p.m.; and Friday-Sunday, 1-8 p.m. Admission for self-guided tours is $8 for adults and $7 for senior citizens 65 and older. Combination tickets, to include a tour of the recently relocated Millersburg Glass Museum, can be purchased for a total cost of $10.

For more information about the Victorian House, Holidays at the Mansion, or the clown exhibit, call Boley at 330-674-0022.

Reporter Christine L. Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or by email at cpratt@the-daily-record.com.

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