I’ve been meaning to get this in the shop and the blog forever, and here it is:
The carousel procession was the first design I made as I was forming Wishcraft Studio and thinking about what I would sell. It was also the first time I had made a polymer clay sculpt, a silicone mold, and added a patina on a silver piece, which is now the standard for my jewelry. After seeing how well the process brought out the details, my husband said it was the way I had to go. It takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it, and I think the same can be said of the old carousels (though my work is paltry by comparison).
I started researching carousels after remembering the one my husband and I rode on dates to Pullen Park in Raleigh, NC and they have a fascinating history. Carousels have existed for centuries, emerging in the Middle East around 500 AD and borrowed by the Crusaders from the Turks and Arabs as a military training device. They were later domesticated for enjoyment in the gardens of European royalty and enjoyed a Renaissance in America, where they evolved from small, traveling fair attractions to fixed, stately works of art, with flashing lights, brass rings, and exuberant organ music.
The Pullen Park carousel was originally made in 1911 by the Dentzel family’s famous Pennsylvania Carousel Company and moved to the park in 1921. It boasts 52 hand-carved basswood animals and is one of only 14 menagerie carousels left, meaning it has giraffes, rabbits, pigs, ostriches, cats, and other creatures in addition to horses.
Significant restoration work was done in the 70’s and 80’s, when they removed the years of touch-up paint on many of the animals and matched the original factory colors, making the carousel look just like it did when it first carried riders over a century ago. A beautiful climate-controlled building was recently constructed to house the attraction, and if you are in Raleigh, it is worth the $1 ticket to enjoy a piece of history.
What I really like about the Dentzel carousels is the characteristic style of their figures and that they pioneered the exotic menagerie theme. The lion and the rabbit’s postures are particularly classic for the company, and the overall quality of the work is exquisite.
The Dentzel models also follow the tradition of having a “flag horse” decorated in a patriotic theme, which usually stands on the outer ring and is the most ornate animal on the ride. Most of the carvers during the golden age of carousels at the turn of the century were German or Italian immigrants, and they were showing pride for their new country.