Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Wonderful Albany Carousel and Workshop






There were a lot of sights and activities that we looked forward to on the Oregon Trail, but there was one place, one experience that we did not anticipate... and it was easily a great highlight of our entire adventure. I'm talking about visiting the Historic Carousel & Museum in Albany, Oregon. Ron and Delia took us to downtown Albany after dinner, and we walked to the Willamette River along the Dave Clark Trail, to Monteith Riverpark, up and down First Avenue and Second Avenue. All the shops were closed, so was the Carousel Museum, but we pressed our noses against the windows, peering into a maker-artist wonderland! Across the street, at Sybaris Bistro, Janel and her daughters were busy putting things in order, but invited us in to meet Hope, one of the carousel figures, on display in the restaurant. All over downtown there are hints and glimpses, and thoughtful supporters of this amazing project. This meeting absolutely confirmed our plans for Monday: We had to visit the museum, see all of the Carousel figures, get as close as possible to the tools, illustrations, works in progress, and meet the people in the workshop!

All of the details, the history of the project, the plans, hopes, and accomplishments are explained on their website. Basically, they are ten years into a fifteen year project to build an historically inspired carousel, with 52 unique and original hand carved and painted animals. Their vision statement: "To enchant young and old alike with the finest carousel in the world, promote the artistry of carousel building by sharing our skills and talents, and build community by opening our venue to events and activities”. Awesome! This is being accomplished with an all volunteer craftsman, woodcarving, painting, and artist team, and donations. And when we walked inside, met the people and saw their work, we were definitely enchanted.

No two animals are alike. In fact there are sixty-six total animals... fifty-two of them will be in use, with six alternates for days when a figure is getting repaired, or maintained, as well as five more animals for holiday and seasonal themes. A black cat for Halloween! Our Chango approves. And to my delight, how about a Christmas Rooster? He looks amazing! In addition to these there will be two chariots. Following the link to the Animals page will show you a list of all the creations, with illustrations, and details about their inspiration. Each concept is a heartfelt and creative masterpiece... some completed, some in progress, each awe-inspiring.

Harriette! What a darling. This picture show's the romance side of Harriette, this is the more elaborate and detailed face that will be seen when facing the carousel from outside. I love this word and meaning, and when lead painter Gwenn Marchese explained it to me it was an aha! moment for me as I realized that of course a carousel figure might be more interesting on the showing side, where the carvers' and painters' work would enjoy more attention! Harriette the frog is spectacularly whimsical all the way around, and it's fun to read about the meanings and significance of each detail.

Soon this entire workshop, plus the carousel itself, will be in a specially designed and constructed building. Until then, you can visit the Museum and studio, free of charge, and there is a gift shop, too. In the front we saw the animal figures waiting to be painted. Each figure will be stipple painted in at least eight coats of oil paint. This means no brush strokes! It also means a lot of time for drying is necessary between coats of paint. The finish is glossy, smooth, and the colors are rich, and vibrant.

To protect the paint, and to prepare the animals for all those happy riders, each figure will be finished with 3 layers of automotive clear coat. This carousel is a working art piece, and letting people enjoy their ride will be as important as protecting the artistry of the animals. In the paint studio it was important for us to stay behind the barrier, for the pieces to not get touched. That's understandable considering how vulnerable wet oil paints, and drying figures are. We admired the works in progress from a safe distance, then stepped into the wood carving studio!






Here we met woodcarvers, men and women who chip by chip are taking roughed out forms and cutting out the details and features that will turn basswood into a bear, a quail, horses, and chariots. David showed William basic carving techniques, and talked about the forgiveness of working with wood... it's not impossible to fix an error and make adjustments to the plan. In fact some mistakes can turn into something quite lovely. David's wife, Linda, is a painter, but she's been branching out and taking on some carving jobs, too. I love how they've carved grapevines and the basket into the saddle on Martha's back.

Here is a mustang, and you can see the artist's rendering hanging on the wall.

Here's Lady Sophia, with her cat and mouse traveling companions.





The concept art is charming, and so pretty. I love all the details, and personal touches, like the gnome at the back of the reindeer's saddle, and bespectacled Grizzly Berry's optometry basket.

Inspired by a family cow, in Switzerland... I just adore Sally, the darling Brown Swiss cow.

And it's fascinating to see the animal come to life, to see the inspiration on the wall begin to take shape in the wood.

Every stage of development in this project is compelling, and a treat to observe. The finished pieces, like Daisy the elephant, are even more impressive and awe inspiring once you can appreciate all the steps and phases that brought her to life. The new Carousel home will be more than a beautiful attraction and ride; it will be a place to witness the living history of carousels, a working studio where craftsmanship and art can continue to be taught and passed on for new generations.



Hello, Sampson!

I want to return. For sure when the Carousel is operational, and we can see all the animals in their fullest splendor, but I would enjoy another visit, when everything is still coming along, when things are being put together, and people are figuring things out. This isn't a kit, the parts aren't waiting in a warehouse, there are fewer and fewer experts who can provide all the answers. They still need donors, sponsors, supporters, even just people who care about uniquely compelling projects. Challenges. Wonderful challenges... the kind that bring talented people together, and rally communities. I love those kinds of opportunities. I love the tools laid out for use, and people in a circle, thinking and tinkering, and making.

And I deeply admire anyone who wants to make something, who is willing to see what can come of holding a new tool, finding some material, asking questions, and diving in. Every contribution matters. Every part will make a whole, and I think the pleasure of partaking must be gratifying and good.

This is the romance side of The Guardian. {Oh, and also Harriette's adorable backside!} The Guardian is a Hippocampus, a mythological animal. Someone imagined a creature, half fish, half horse. Someone made sketches, and drew lines, developed a saddle concept. Wood carvers pulled The Guardian out of the wood, and painters shaded forms, colored fish and seaweed, and a mermaid's smile. Engineers will come in and add this piece, and all the others, to the fully restored 1909 Carousel mechanism. My favorite places are where art and engineering meet. A carousel is a wonder of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Music, Math... and imagination.

Even if you cannot visit in person, please visit the Albany Historic Carousel and Museum website.
You can also Like them on FaceBook. I am sure those volunteers would love to hear our oohs and ahhs!

6 comments:

  1. I love this! I'm so glad you found it and shared it. I liked it and shared it on Facebook. Charming and delightful indeed. Now I MUST visit Oregon!

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    1. Judy, thank you!
      It's so much fun to fall in love with something, share it, and have friends who see what I see!
      There are so many good reasons to visit Oregon, and Albany has some particularly wonderful things to offer. We can't wait to get back there.

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  2. WOW!!! Thank you for sharing, absolutely gorgeous work. I love carousels and this was a fascinating read!
    Thank you! :)

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    1. It's not easy representing something special, like this, and it makes me happy (relieved, too) to know that people are seeing that the work IS gorgeous! I wish all of us carousel and art fans could see it together!

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  3. Wonderful! I'm fully planning on visiting next time we're in Oregon!

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    1. Super! And maybe you can let us know how things are progressing?
      I already feel an attachment to some of those animals. I cannot wait to see the finished fox, and Martha, the quail.

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