New Jumbo exhibition to open at Art Gallery

Professor of Art and Art History Andrew McClellan will open an exhibit on Jumbo the elephant at the Tufts University Art Gallery next fall, celebrating the 125th anniversary of the mascot’s arrival on campus. 

The exhibit, titled “Jumbo: Marvel, Myth and Mascot,” will explore Jumbo’s history and legacy, and will represent the culmination of McClellan’s eight-year research project on the topic. 

“The exhibit will try to illustrate all of those facets of Jumbo’s identity before, during and after his life by means of original illustrative material,” McClellan said. “It is going to be devoted to the story of Jumbo from his time at the London Zoo in the 1860s through his time in P. T. Barnum’s circus in the 1880s and his death in the train accident in Canada in 1885, and then coming to Tufts in 1889.”

The exhibit will open from Sept. 4 to Dec. 7 and will be the first scholarly examination of the representation of Jumbo in visual culture, according to Director of Galleries and Collections at the Tufts Art Gallery Amy Schlegel.

Schlegel believes the event will be informative and interesting, particularly for those affiliated with Tufts.

“I think it is going to be quite a fabulous exhibition,” she said. “Professor McClellan has an incredible storytelling sense, and he is going to be organizing all of this very fresh material in a very compelling way.”

As the exhibit’s title suggests, the exhibit will be organized into three categories that illustrate Jumbo’s role as a marvel, myth and mascot.

“[The exhibition] encompasses the different facets of his life,” McClellan said. “He was a marvel in the sense that he was the largest animal in captivity and the first African elephant ever brought to Europe and then to the United States. The myth part involves the way he was anthropomorphized during his life and became a household name to everyone on both sides of the Atlantic … And the mascot part is the history of him here at Tufts.”

The exhibit will be further divided into sections such as “Jumbo Goes to Hollywood,” a component that describes Jumbo’s inspiration for the animated Disney movie “Dumbo”(1941), as well as “Jumbo Goes to War,” illustrating the elephant on a bomber plane and navy ship, McClellan said. There will also be a section inviting alumni to send in photographs or memories of Jumbo.

McClellan’s exhibit will explore the story of Jumbo’s death in a train accident.

“One of the bigger myths about him is that when he was killed in a train accident, he sacrificed his own life in order to save a baby elephant by the name of Tom Thumb, which wasn’t true, but Barnum was keen on fabricating plausible and wonderful stories about Jumbo and others,” he said.

McClellan plans to publish a book in conjunction with the exhibit, featuring information and images from the showing. 

“The book will be a living record of the images that were brought together in the show and will continue to be available long after December,” he said.

Schlegel believes the book will be an excellent addition to the exhibit.

“It will be quite a lavishly illustrated book that will have high quality reproductions of all the works in the exhibition plus other images that may only exist in digital form,” she said.

A new Jumbo statue will also be unveiled on campus next fall in order to celebrate the 125th anniversary, according to McClellan. 

“Thanks to a generous [alumnus], Tufts received enough money to commission a life-sized bronze statue of Jumbo, which will be placed on the main quad of the campus,” he said.

McClellan was uncertain about the statue’s exact location or what will happen to the current statue, but he expressed optimism about the upcoming installation.

“I hope it leads to a lot of student interest on campus, new rituals around the sculpture, new traditions and greater awareness of the fact that we are lucky at Tufts to have the greatest mascot in America,” he said.