Growing up near a world-class amusement park, I loved the action of thrill rides, the spray of the water flumes, and the crazy spinning of all the others. Now when visiting there I opt to relax, see some shows, and appreciate the simplicity of the merry-go-round, or carousel. While on a cruise this spring, the Boardwalk neighborhood on board the ship had a carousel complete with calliope music, but even more interesting to me were the displays of authentic wooden carousel horses and how they were crafted. The skilled carver started with a large, rectangular chunk of wood on which he drew and then carved the characteristics of each horse. Once carved, the horse was then sanded, stained, beautifully hand painted, and gilded with gold leaf and sparkling gems.
The left side of this horse is still in the beginning stages of production with artwork sketched onto the wooden block and some carving. In contrast, the right side shows the carousel horse fully carved and painted in all its glory. What a work of art! Up until the 1920s most carousel horses were made in this fashion. After that point most were made of aluminum, fiberglass, or other plastics, and the painting was mostly done by machine because, of course, it was more cost effective.
Luckily, the carousel at our amusement park is indeed one of the few original wooden ones left, and it started spinning in 1926 at Coney Island. After learning so much about these skillfully crafted beauties, I can’t wait to go the park and really observe and appreciate all that they are.