Marketing gurus began searching nearly twenty years ago for the
perfect match or product for the mass population of baby boomers who would
reach retirement age with better health and better finances. From expanding
cruise ship inventories to building retirement communities, they all felt they
had a handle on what WE would want in our leisure years. They are now
discovering, leisure is not necessarily the operative word!
A Carousel for Missoula
Baby boomers are not retiring. They are regrouping and
reorganizing. These empty nesters are investing in completely new life styles
that include hobbies, sports and the arts. Not as observers, but as
participants! The diversity of their interests are amazing - from race car
driving, Harleys, bucking broncs on the rodeo circuit to the art of the
carousel. Not just as users, but as creators as well. Carvers and painters are
coming in all sorts of packages - young, old, male and female. And it is not
limited to carousel figures, they are creating and or restoring the mechanical
music as well. To some it is a work in miniature, to others, it is full size
versions that not only decorate their homes but are finding their way to their
back-yards, the local parks and zoos.
The lead horse on
A Carousel for Missoula
These new artists are living the term, "it is not the destination
but the voyage". They understand the value of collectibles and especially
those in their original condition but also relate to the preservation of the
entire carousel as part of the quality of life. Proving the rule of supply and
demand, they are now beginning to snap up the metal generation of the carousel
industry. The term "retro" has become the latest fad for furnishing and
design. Aluminum carousel figures are finding a place along side plastic
chairs, chrome accents and 50's colors. Every town is sprouting chain "diners"
with parking lots jammed with restored "muscle cars".
In the early spring of 2001, a Dentzel-Muller style cum Kaparic
flag horse arrived in my studio. This figure will be placed on the Rocky
Springs Carousel, Lancaster, Pennsylvania as a spare horse while the original
figures are restored to their original colors. This community has fought,
funded and celebrated the return of their hometown carousel and will soon
build a new home in order that it can spin again in the heart and hearts of
Ferry County Merry-Go-Round
Chuck Kaparich (the inspiration of A Carousel for Missoula) and
I agreed to donate this spare figure. As in most of my painting projects, I
began to research the flag horses that are found on many antique carousels. I
had already painted several of these patriotic figures and with the recent
turn of events, I wanted to find out more. Two of these ride on the Missoula
Carousel (photos 1/2), one on a restored machine in Wheaton, Maryland which
had once operated on the front lawn of the Smithsonian (photo 3) and two were
class projects for students in my workshops.
Photo 4 from the Ferry County
Merry Go Round, Republic, Washington seemed appropriate for the restoration of
this little mixed Herschell, circa 1900's. The little U.S. Cavalry horse was
painted by students from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He became an international
favorite. In my recent research, all the original flag horses I was able to
find appeared during and right after World War I. So far no Illions or Looff
flag horses have appeared. If you have a photo of one, please let me know.
We will continue this series in the next few months, exploring the
"warm" and "cool" color schemes of flag horses and other menagerie figures.
During my search I came across a marvelous quote by Chuck in a book published
shortly after his Montana community completed one of the nations first
hand-carved carousels in 68 years. Chuck was describing both his immigrant
grandfather and his father and ended with, "I built this carousel and along
the way, I kind of figured out who I was and what it meant to be an American.
And I am so proud of that. I have earned a place here now. I belong
U.S. Cavalry Horse
Painted by Students from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Perhaps, we are all learning that . . . in a place where dreams can become
Bette Largent is a professional carousel horse restoration artist from
Washington State, and the author of
Paint The Ponies,
a guide for those who are interested in learning the art of painting
for information on ordering her book.