Howard Tibbals began playing with dioramas around the time he turned seven, back in 1943. You’re familiar with dioramas, right? They’re three dimensional models depicting a scene, often used in grade school classes to help kids learn about history or nature. At some point, each of my three children came home declaring their need for a shoebox so they could build a diorama of the coral reef, or the old west.
Tibbals dioramas weren’t the result of a school assignment, but rather his fascination with the circus. He began by recreating a single scene and then added to it. He kept adding to it for over 30 years, finishing the majority of it in 1974. By this time, it was huge – around 3,800 square feet. It made its public premiere at the 1982 World Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. (I remember going to that fair, though I don’t recall seeing the giant circus diorama.)
The Howard Bros. Circus (so labeled because management of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus refused his request to use their name) is built ¾ inch to one foot and includes over 42,000 individual pieces. There are eight tents including behind-the-scenes depictions of 1,500 workers and over 500 animals. Every item included with his depiction of the circus can be loaded into the 55 scale train cars included. The attention to detail is meticulous. Looking at the display is like seeing the operation suddenly frozen in time.
What if someone created a diorama of your average work day? Imagine that, at any given moment, time froze and whatever you and your coworkers were engaged in was captured in realistic detail for future generations to see. What would you be doing? What would you be saying? What would your diorama depict?
Would you be serving customers or neglecting them?
Would you be assisting coworkers or avoiding them?
Would you be coaching those you lead or demanding something from them?
Would you be contributing or complaining?
Life is made up of moments; any one of which can define us to someone else. They say that first impressions are formed in a matter of seconds. So are second and third impressions. Our perception of the world, and the people, around us changes constantly. So how we choose to spend the minutes and hours of our day can have long-lasting implications.
We live in a world where attention is fleeting and loyalties change on a whim. We cannot afford to sit idly by and assume that things will work out. We can’t hope that the numbers will swing in our favor or that circumstances will bring success our way. It’s our own actions, moment by moment, that determine whether we succeed or fail. Periodically, take a mental snapshot of yourself – envision yourself in a diorama – and see if you’re happy with the image.
Howard Tibbals spent a large portion of his life faithfully crafting the world he wanted to convey. His final creation was the result of numerous moments in time, stitched together in a fascinating scene for others to see. Today, the entire exhibit is part of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida.