§ by Randy Maxey on July 16th, 2007
I got a treat on Sunday. The Heritage Carousel at Union Park in Des Moines, Iowa was celebrating its tenth anniversary. As part of the celebration, they invited the original builders of the carousel, The Carousel Works, Inc., to attend and demonstrate their carving and painting skills. I got to speak with the owner and his wife (Art and Marilyn Ritchie) about their craft. It so happens that they’re from Mansfield, Ohio, close to where I grew up in Ohio. He’s been carving for over thirty years. His wife does some of the painting.
As we stood there chatting, he was using his Pfeil carving tools to smooth out the body shape of a horse figure. You could tell his tools were very sharp. He was effortlessly taking thin chips out of the basswood figure. I asked him how he keeps his tools so sharp. He uses a buffing wheel to hone the edge as needed.
One of my boys asked him how many times he’s cut himself. He smiled and pointed to his tool roll you see here on the left. He includes bandages as part of his tool kit.
As time went on, he commented to passers-by that they’ve got seven full-time carvers on staff at the shop. He said that the figure he was carving on that day is going to be a training aid for his carvers. As we were talking, he flipped the figure over to show how he had carved the musculature and rib cage of the horse on one side. His point is that unless a carver knows the anatomy of a horse, he’s going to have a difficult time carving one. The detail was fascinating and realistic.
The discussion turned to painting. He says they use three coats of primer, sanding between coats. Then the colors are brushed on. Finally, five coats of clearcoat are applied for durability.
Besides building new carousels using wood figures, The Carousel Works also does restoration of old carousels. To me, it was refreshing to see that there are still companies out there working hard to keep craftsmanship alive.