The stigma around circus people in the early 1800's reduced them to sub-human creatures. These freaks of nature were supposedly possessed by the devil or were products of warped evolution. But the lifestyle these people lived was one of a lush oasis of acceptance. Whether they were forced to perform or did so of their own free will, they often found a haven in the circus environment from strict societal constraints, coupled with great financial opportunity. Among the other performers they were able to feel normal, perhaps for the first time in their lives. There are three main categories under which these historical figures fall: the physically disabled, the mentally challenged, and those who were neither but sought the life of the circus anyway.
From 1992. I spent the better part of 5 months on this, but it never seemed to go well. In a fit of frustration I gessoed over the whole thing and painted this [link] over it in a little less than two weeks.
In retrospect I kinda wish I'd kept it.