I receive more and more requests for restoring old aluminum horses. I believe these cast creatures will be the hot second generation collector items of the carousel industry. As the original wooden animals become more rare and as the awareness of their continued collection jeopardizes the operating carousels, more and more people will seek out the metal cast animals.

1910 Pinto Brothers Aluminum Horse
My first aluminum restoration was of a circa 1910 Pinto Brothers aluminum horse that was purchased at auction during the American Carousel Convention in the spring of 1996. It was then shipped to the new owner in Seattle and suffered severe damage during transit. Thanks to the marvelous welding skills of a good friend it was swiftly put back together. It appeared that this was not the first time it had been damaged and repaired.

The horse was originally crafted to be placed on a small mobile kiddy merry-go-round that would travel from neighborhood to neighborhood to give small children a taste of the magic of a grand carousel. The Illions factory supplied small horses such as this to the Pinto Brothers who operated little carousels in the streets of Coney Island. These were later used as molds to cast metal horses. An operating Mangel's machine full of such horses was visited by the new owner in the fall of 1996 during the National Carousel Convention. The colors of the restored horses inspired her to have the little horse restored to a strawberry-roan pinto. Hence the name "Red Cloud". Photo 1 shows the similarities of these small horses with the distinctive Illions style.

Aluminum was a "new" metal in the early 1900's even though it's invention is dated to the 1890's. The casting of Red Cloud was primitive by today's standards with many flaws, pits, and distortions. The casting still displays the grace and movement that Illions was known for. Through the years, the animal had been re-welded and the two halves of the body didn't quite match up. Many areas were gouged out or gone. On top of all this were many coats of paint, some quite unusual in color.

This was a new challenge as I was used to wooden animals, and the new material created a new set of problems such as stripping and repair. Normal paint removal involves heat or chemicals. Aluminum is great for cooking utensils because it distributes the heat evenly. Sandblasting was out as it would erase what casting detail that remained. Chemicals were tricky. The answer was to take it to a commercial business who specialized in stripping automotive parts. The one recommended by my local body shop luckily has a background of stripping metal toys and pedal cars as well. Upon completing the job, their comments were "where can I find another horse like it?" and "we underbid the job". Getting all those layers of old paint off was a lot tougher than they had imagined.

Some areas had been sanded down to the metal
The next step was the same as with the wooden figures. Sand and fill. Sanding was easy and with a Dremel tool, electric sander and wire and grinder attachments it was soon a "sparkling" shiny metal horse, but with all its cracks and flaws.

The filler to use was the next dilemma. Everyone recommend fill materials used for minor repairs in the automotive industry. Items such as Bondo and glazing compounds. Most had a toxic fume warning label but my studio is in a home environment and taking it outside to use this materials wasn't an option. January in Spokane is sub-zero with snow and these chemicals required room temperatures to cure.

After much discussion with paint, art and automotive supply dealers I decided to use a material called Hyplar modeling paste. I was very familiar with this medium and it's counterpart Liquitex acrylic modeling paste #5508. The acrylic contains marble dust which is much harder than the talc contained in the automotive products. It was water soluble when applied and water proof when dry. It could be carved, molded or thinned. It only required precautions when sanding, just like any other dust.

Once dried, it could be carved easily in the first 24 hours. After cured, it required mechanical tools to sand and shape. I had also used it for thirty years for various art projects including impasto and paper mache'. I've even used it to repair my shower. It would not adhere to the bare aluminum so the first thing was to apply two coats of an aluminum primer paint. You must use a primer formulated for aluminum! After sanding smooth I began to apply the filler.

By the time the horse was ready to paint, some areas had been sanded down to the metal. Photo 2. Areas such as forelocks, missing carvings and detail were pristine and smooth. Two more coats of the aluminum primer were applied and sanded. I then tested the adhesion. The animal was placed outside in sub-zero weather then brought in before a roaring fire. After two weeks of this routine, there was no sign of cracking or checking. The paint and the filler remained tight. The animal was then painted using alkyd oil enamels and alkyd oil paints. New leather straps for reins and stirrups were purchased and the leather saddle was then faux painted to match.

Red Cloud
The result was a pony painted with the warm colors of the earth, with painted designs based upon 1910 Navajo pottery, antique Crow Indian quill work and eagle feathers adorning the rest of his trappings. He has a silver chrome pole and finial, nickel-plated stirrups, silver base and simulated turquoise-banded breast plate. A Native American design from the Northwest area appears on his saddle flap that symbolizes his new home in the land of the Seattles. Photo 3.

If you have any questions on restoring aluminum carousel animals or on other painting projects, email me by clicking Here.

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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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