Meet V.E. Fintz. She lives in a three-story home in north DeKalb County, which contains several different collections, the most prominent being circus-related items. Within that category, we focus on her remarkable clown collection and learn from a knowledgeable enthusiast.
When Fintz was a kid in New York, every spring the famous Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus appeared at Madison Square Garden, and Fintz’s mother or aunt took her and her sister to the three-ring show. Fintz was most fascinated by the clever cameo clown act. The side show, aerial feats and animals were thrilling, but when the lights went down, and hobo Weary Willy (the unrivaled Emmett Kelly) stood alone in the center ring, chasing the spotlight with his broom, Fintz was transfixed.
“Every professional clown,” Fintz explains, “has a legally-patented persona, an original face, costume and routine. Think of Charlie Chaplin. Clowns are great athletes, acrobats and gymnasts. Think of Buster Keaton. I was so impressed by ‘clown culture,’ that in the early 1970s, when I was living in the South, I went to a regional Ringling Brothers clown audition in Greenville, S.C. I planned to apply for admission to their Clown College, and I got an application. I met my former husband close to that time, and my life took a different trajectory. In an effort to rekindle that dream, I applied again 20 years later, and I subsequently framed their rejection letter!”
Fintz, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in French, a master’s in education and a doctorate in reading, went on to teach for more than 40 years. She claims that she began clown oil paint-by-numbers to avoid working on her doctorate, but soon moved from two- to three-dimensional clowns. Her first purchase was a porcelain Lladro clown, which she had to pay for in installments. A world traveler, Fintz has collected clowns from Denmark, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Hungary, Indonesia and China, as well as the United States, but every unique clown doesn’t pass her acquisition test. “I collect clowns that are funny, sad, beautiful or wistful, but never ugly or scary,” she said.
“I’ve never met a famous clown – and there are some great ones – but I enjoy watching them and learning about them. I love the performances of the inimitable Bello Nock, the wild, orange-haired daredevil clown, whom I’ve seen at Shriners, Big Apple (twice) and Ringling Brothers circuses.
“My classic poster collection was ‘thrust’ upon me by friends and family. One couple made it a ‘point of honor’ to bring me a street circus or clown poster from every country they visited. One time they purchased a wire cutter and in the dead of night ‘released’ a two-sided poster from a streetlamp. A friend gave me a Murano clown she’d owned since grade school because her young son kept chipping it. My nephew, on his family trip many years ago, bought me a pair of gigantic clown shoes, instead of choosing something for himself. My mechanic gave me a clown, which a customer left him after he worked on the client’s clown car. Yes, it’s gotten around that I collect clowns!”