Stonework At The Ringling Museum – Sarasota, Florida

Have you ever had the feeling of “What do I shoot?” when you have been to a venue over and over again? Some places can support multiple shoots to cover all of the detail that it has to offer. Ringling Museum is such a place. It seems as if I have been making weekly trips there with classes for our on location portion of the class. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ringling and there is always something to capture. In the past couple of weeks, I have focused on flowers, as it was springtime and Mable’s rose garden was blooming as well as the variety of plants near the secret garden. No matter where you go, give yourself an assignment. This makes it interesting and keeps one from getting bored. Change up the lenses, composition and lighting. You never know what may happen. As with all my adventures, this one didn’t prove to be boring in a long shot. Let me explain.

I had two classes scheduled back to back to meet at Ringling for the outdoor portion of the class. Checking the radar, it showed an 80% chance of rain. I thought we were doomed. However, when I finished my first class that morning and went outside, there was blue sky and puffy clouds. I was amazed. The photographer’s Gods were on my side once again (time to sacrifice another camera card). I finished packing the car and drove down the road to the Ringling Museum. Once parked, I gathered my gear and headed in and waited a few minutes for the students to arrive.

Once everyone was assembled it was time to go out and take a few photos. We had made it down past the Banyan Café and into the rose garden. An hour and half went by and I kept one eye towards the sky. So far so good, at this point I figured I could take a couple of photos, but of what? Looking around there wasn’t any shortage inspiration. Right now I’m doing some black and white for personal work. I decided I would shoot some of the stonework that was around the property. This is how children who have no siblings play “I Spy”. Yes, I’m an only child. I’m glad that Siri came along on the iPhone, at least now I have someone to talk to and she gives it right back to me. I told her that I loved her and she replied, “It’s too early, I don’t know you that well.” Little does she know I can take her batteries out to shut her up. Anyway….

 This is a lion head on one of the benches at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida. Photography by Spencer Pullen.The Lion Doesn’t Sleep Tonight – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

I took a few steps over to a bench that is in Mable’s rose garden and there were some lion heads that were carved into the bench seat. As you can see this piece of artwork has been around for quite some time and has seen its days of weather. I was truly amazed that someone could take a piece of material and with a hammer and chisel could make this come out of it. I can’t run a pencil, let alone a hammer and chisel.

 Spencer Pullen took this photo at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida.Shy Woman – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Again, within a few steps I saw this woman statue that was posed perfectly. She was all dressed up with her Sunday best on and her hat. At this point, it’s starting to cloud up a little which isn’t a bad thing as it creates the biggest soft box that one could ask for. Nice soft light shows off this woman’s features. Even though she’s made out of stone, why can’t we make her look beautiful? I composed the photo with her head and neck creating a C shape. I thought it added some flair to the photo. We decided it was time to gather ourselves and move on to the mansion.

 This is Ceaser Augustus at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.Caesar Augustus of Prima Porta – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

As we approached the house I could see some heavy clouds gathering on the bay. I knew it wasn’t going to be long. However, before surrendering to nature we wanted to get a photo of this statue. We looked for a marker to see who it was and we couldn’t find anything. It helps to have friends in high places. I sent this photo off to a good friend of mine who happens to be a docent for the Cá d’Zan. She sent it off to the appropriate person and this is what I received back:

This is Caesar Augustus of Prima Porta. The original was found in 1863. It is from the Villa of Livia, the emperor’s wife made in A.D.14. It is housed in the Vatican collections in Rome.

These folks know their stuff. At this point we were standing out on the back area of the Cá d’Zan enjoying the massive wind. Then it hit me, dark skies with massive wind. This is usually a good time to take cover. The folks that I was with if we added up all of our gear, it probably added up to $10,000. None of us were in the mood to loose it and I don’t look the best ripping my shirt out of my pants to cover the camera while attempting to run for the nearest structure. I gingerly looked over to the other folks that I was with and gently suggested that we head back the café for cover. As we turned our backs, it was like I was Dorothy and my camera was Toto. The wind picked up and was blowing us off the now slick marble floor of the mansion. I was in the process of hurdling over the camera like a bad day at the buffet when the rain came at full force. We looked at each other and said, “We’re not going to make it.” Then a glimmer of hope, there was a docent letting people in where the tours start for the Cá d’Zan. One of the students said, “Screw it, we’re going in.”. Keep in mind that we haven’t paid; we just came on the grounds to photograph the grounds, which is totally legal. But going into the house is a no, no. We were lucky; there was a tour that was just leaving and a bench opened up for us. As we sat down, a different person came over and was trying to gather folks for the next tour. It didn’t take long for them to realize that we didn’t have wristbands on. At this point there’s hurricane winds and rain outside. We explained that we just wanted to wait the storm out and had no interest in going inside. We must have looked non-threatening as they allowed us to sit there. All in a days work, in fifteen minutes it was over.

 These are doors on Charles Ringling home in Sarasota, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.The Doors of Charles Ringling – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

After the storm had passed, we made our way over to the house adjacent to John’s house. I was told this was the home of Charles Ringling. I think this is John’s brother, but I could be wrong. If someone knows for sure, please comment in the comments section. As we were passing by, I liked all of the French doors. There were even five of them; odd numbers are always better for composition.

 These are some columns on the Ca d Zan at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.Carved Columns – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

As we were walking back to the front of the museum, we passed these columns that were all carved differently. I filled the frame and used spot focus to single out the one that I thought has some real character.

 Poseidon giving Spencer Pullen at look at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida.Poseidon – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

We also passed Poseidon…I think. There was a fish tail around him and his arm was broke off. It looked as if he might have sported a pitchfork at one time. The crappy weather made for an interesting background and his head was tilted. Kind of looks like he is tilting his head back to make sure he made it into the photo.

On the processing side, these were fairly simple. I had great light to work with as it was soft and diffused. However, I find that good black and white photos do well in harsh light. This creates strong contrast, which allow all of the features to stand out. In this case, I had the opposite. No worries, when I opened the photos into Photoshop and slid them into Nik’s Sliver Efex Pro, I cranked up the contrast. This created the illusion that I took the photos in harsh light. Between Adobe Camera RAW and Nik, I was able to knock each of these out in less than five minutes. Give it a look if you haven’t yet.

At the end of the day, I was hot, tired, wet and most importantly, the camera was full of some great photos. Yes, we had to endure nature’s fury for a few minutes. Camera = $3,000, looking like a half dressed idiot running towards cover = not sure how much this would fetch (I would probably have to pay some fine), getting a great shot during crappy weather to get some dramatic lighting = PRICELESS!

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean (and dry)


  1. Spencer, you are correct, the picture of the doors is from the Charles Ringling estate; now, part of New College. The following is from one of their publications: “New College’s historic Bayfront Campus sits on the former estate of circus magnate Charles Edward Ringling (1863-1926), the older brother of John Ringling. Charles was one of the owners of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and was in charge of production, while his wife, Edith, participated in the business and was a member of the board of directors of the circus.

    The estate was built in 1925-26 as the winter retreat for the Charles Ringling family in what was known as the Shell Beach subdivision, platted in 1896. The compound was designed to be completely self-sufficient, including staff quarters, farming and livestock. In addition to the main mansion, Charles built another gracious bayfront home for his daughter, Hester Ringling Sanford, and her children, now known as Cook Hall. The two bayfront homes are connected by a covered walkway that creates a transition between the two architectural styles. Within months of the completion of the construction, Charles died, but Edith Ringling and their daughter continued to reside on the estate for many decades. The structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”

  2. Was just in Rome and visited the National Museum where the “Walls” of Augustus’ Villa of Livia are now located. The frescos were amazing. Couldn’t believe they are 2000 years old. Just amazing.

  3. love it – love the Ringling Museum – thanks

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