Flag Horse Part 1  |   Flag Horse Part 2   |   Flag Horse Part 3   |   Flag Horse Part 4

The Painting of a Flag Horse

Part One of a Four Part Series by Bette Largent

American Beauty
A Carousel for Missoula
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!

Columbia Belle
The lead horse on
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.

Flag Horse
Wheaton, Maryland
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".

Ferry County Merry-Go-Round
Republic, Washington
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 their city.

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.

U.S. Cavalry Horse
Painted by Students from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
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 here".

Perhaps, we are all learning that . . . in a place where dreams can become reality.

Flag Horse Part 1  |   Flag Horse Part 2   |   Flag Horse Part 3   |   Flag Horse Part 4

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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 carousel figures.

Click Here for information on ordering her book.

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