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Banner Factory 1997
It all started in 1996! Toni-Lee's first banners publicly displayed in Coney Island. Here is the original invite from the exhibit.
First Sideshow Banner in Coney Island
My first "Real Human Shrunken Head" (6 x 9 ft), "Sword Swallower" and "Serpentina" (4 x 5 ft) banners in Coney Island. All are in private collections now.
Sword Swallower and Serpentina
Close up of the "Sword Swallower" and "Serpentina" banners in Coney Island


Toni-Lee Sangastiano is American painter who recently returned from a one year sabbatical in Florence, Italy, studying old master drawing techniques at the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy. Sangastiano is known for her realistic portraits of sideshow performers and is one of the 'leading sideshow banner painters' in the United States. Her work plays an important documentation role in the decaying theatrical genre of the American sideshow and its adaptation to an ever-increasing technological and mediated world.

Sangastiano's interest in sideshow and subcultures began and was nourished while taking her B.A. in Art at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. Her continued interest in the carnivalesque focuses on the dualities of reality versus illusion, the beautiful versus the grotesque and the elimination or reversal of hierarchies to expose deeper societal topics.

In 1997, Sangastiano's first sideshow banner paintings were displayed and flown at Coney Island's Sideshows By The Seashore and the Coney Island Museum. Her passion for old master techniques began at Montclair University where she received her M.F.A.

Sangastiano's work can be found in numerous private and public collections. Exhibitions include Sideshow, Yale University School of the Art: 32 Edgewood Gallery, Amazing Marvels, Off Rhode Gallery, Washington D.C., Wide Open 2, Curator Nathan Trotman, Associate Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art, Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC), New York, the Fleming Museum's Under the Big Top: The Fine Art of the Circus in America, Vermont, a commissioned outdoor bannerline installation for the Shelburne Museum's Circus Day in America, Vermont and the Tate Modern, London.

Sangastiano is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design Digital Media at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont (USA) and is pursuing a Ph D. at the Institute For Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, Portland, Maine (USA).

Artist Statement

I have always been drawn to outsiders and oddities as far back as I could remember. In my own life, I often remembered feeling like an outsider too. Difference sparked my curiosity and eventually led me to my interest in sideshows and subcultures. The sideshow itself can be a metaphor for life representing the contradictions in our society, simultaneously inciting our voyeuristic desires and providing a lens for us to question our constructed realities created by society. Both the exaggerated grandeur of the sideshow banner and the old master style portraits of performers that I create represent the dualities between illusion and reality and the beautiful versus the grotesque. I use technology and digital media, drawing and painting to create my work. I am deeply attracted to the ostentatious colors, lighting, textures and fantastical performances that I see both on and off the stage. In the grit and grime of the sideshow, I find the sublime.