In the mid-20th century world of costume design, one name stood a head above the rest—Miles White, winner of two Tonys and four Donaldsons, a now defunct award eclipsed by the Tonys in the 1950s. Making his Broadway debut in 1938 with Right This Way, in no more than five years he was working with the celebrated team of Rodgers and Hammerstein on their first two hits, Oklahoma and Carousel. No stranger to film either, White received three Oscar nominations for his work, including on one of Sarasota’s favorite epics, The Greatest Show on Earth. But the secret to his success? Arguably a bit of circus sensibility instilled in his 11 years building elaborate costumes for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the ‘40s and ‘50s. And with A Kaleidoscope of Color: The Costume Designs of Miles White, currently running at the Ringling Museum, museum-goers get an up-close look at what that means. Raiding the Tibbals Circus Collection of more than 500 original watercolors, sketches and studies from White, more than 50 will be on display, some presented alongside the original costumes constructed from them. “We really see his thought process come out in these drawings,” says Assistant Curator Jennifer Lemmer Posey, making particular mention of a set of sketches pulled from a 1952 notebook, showing White’s attention to detail and care for his craft in rendering aerialist and acrobat costumes from every angle. And though some have been displayed before in exhibitions from the Circus Museum, typically as part of some chronology, Posey looks forward to seeing the work presented in a slightly different setting, more overtly as art than history. “We just think about things differently in different spaces,” she says. “When you are looking at these framed in an art gallery, you stop and look at the simple gestures in the lines or the way that the colors have been composed to create a composition.” 

Miles White.