Artists celebrate a world of carnival, fantasy and make-believe

Six prominent artists whose colourful creations were inspired by the enchanting National Fairground Archive will showcase their work at a new exhibition which opens its doors to the public this week (10 September 2014).

The Arrival, Pete McKeeThe mesmerising Marvelosa exhibition marks the 20th anniversary year of the National Fairground Archive (NFA) based at the University of Sheffield’s Western Bank Library, which is a unique and world-famous collection of photographic, printed, manuscript and audiovisual material covering all aspects of the culture of travelling show people, their community and social history.

Critically acclaimed artists Anthony Bennett, Mark Copeland, (in partnership with Sarah Munro), Paul Evans, Florence Blanchard and Pete McKee have also created new works which reflect the rich heritage of the popular entertainment world that the NFA preserves.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of the National Fairground Archive, said: “Since its inception in 1994, the NFA has attracted the attention and support of artists who have used our collections as inspiration for their own work.

“We have worked with artists in Blackpool, Margate, London and New York, utilising their vision and talent to tell the story of the Archive.

“In this 20th year it seemed fitting to commission new works of art inspired by the collections and each was paired with a part of the Archive.”

Speedway World Champion, Pete McKeeThe NFA has enjoyed a long association with the ‘Showman Sculpture‘ Antony Bennett, whose work has included sculptures of America showman and businessman PT Barnum and the Great Omi who was a professional freak and side show performer who was also known as the Zebra Man because of his distinctive tattoos. Here Bennett pays tribute to the skill and craftsmanship of the greatest fairground carvers from the firm of Orton & Spooner of Burton upon Trent.

The Archive also has a long-standing association with Mark Copeland and Sarah Munroe, artists, designers and creators of a curious world of make-believe and wonder. They have been inspired by a speciality act and have a love of the dedicated performers who spent their entire performing life perfecting six to eight minutes of sheer brilliance. These acts, which were once top of the bill, are now largely forgotten and are only recalled through the remnants of their careers preserved in scrapbooks and ephemera.

Paul Evans’s interest was sparked by hearing a talk on performing wonders, in particular the more extreme animal stars that once trod the boards. He was inspired by tales of talking fish, cycling bears and tightrope­walking elephants.

Florence Blanchard was only recently introduced to the Archive. Her commission was to showcase the female performer. Her beautifully crafted illustrations and screen­prints evoke the strange and beautiful side of the world of the fairground.

Our final commission from Pete McKee is about the audience, the people for whom the annual carnival was the highlight of their holidays. The NFA approached Pete McKee to capture the visit to the local fair, the thrills, the spills and the excitement of that once­a-year experience. Drawing on his own childhood and adolescence, his paintings convey a world of bittersweet nostalgia.

In addition to the five new commissions, Marvelosa will showcase the work of internationally renowned artist Zoe Beloff, whose work in the Archive and solo show in Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery was inspired by the visit of Sigmund Freud to the resort in the 1900s. After her Blackpool show, Zoe requested that her work be shown here in Sheffield during its 20th anniversary year.

The exhibition is open to visitors seven days a week from 10 September 2014 to 8 January 2015.

For more information about opening times please visit

Additional information

Exhibition opening times:
Monday to Thursday – 9am-7pm
Friday 10 am – 7 pm
Saturday 12 noon – 6 pm
Sunday 12 noon – 6 pm

Please check website or telephone for details of Christmas holiday opening times

The Exhibition will take place at the University of Sheffield, Exhibition Gallery, Western Bank Library, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN.

For more information please contact:
0114 222 7231/7392

The University of Sheffield
With almost 25,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.
A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.
Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.
In 2014 it was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education and in the last decade has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.
Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:
Amy Pullan
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859