Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sandy Hildreth: It Takes a Village to Raise a Carousel

On Monday April 23, history was made – the carousel mechanicals were delivered to the Adirondack Carousel site in Saranac Lake and assembly began. As mysterious and amazing as the actual metal structure is, the “barn-raising” experience of being a volunteer for this project is even more fantastic.

I’m sure there are other communities, large and small, where this kind of thing happens, but I am so proud to be part of this community. In grade school in Wisconsin I remember learning about “barn-raising” in a social studies class. When a farmer needed to build a house or barn, the word would go out, a date would be chosen, and all his friends and neighbors would show up and work together. With that kind of cooperation, a building could go up in a day or 2. I recall thinking ‘isn’t that nice – too bad we don’t do things like that any more”. Well, I’ve learned that here in Saranac Lake the concept is not dead and out-dated. From the ice palace to the carousel, when there is a need – community members here step up to the plate.

I started out being the volunteer painter of one of the carousel animals – the otter. Then the bald eagle and this past fall, the black bear. That was fun. The paints were donated by Golden Paints and all I had to do was apply them to these beautifully carved animals (also donated). Then they needed some large panels to be decoratively painted and I jumped in and took command. Rounded up 9 other artists and we got them done with scenes from the area and native wild flowers. They will decorate the upper structure of the carousel.


The carousel animals have been around for several years – touring, animals in residence at various locations, doing press conferences, etc. Well, all that moving around took it’s toll and many of them had nicks and scrapes, so I recently spent several days touching them all up. Then they all needed an “isolation coat” of acrylic varnish and finally, beginning on April 23, they all got a final coat of hard, glossy varnish and will need at least one more coat. Through this process I guess I got to intimately know all the animals – every nook and cranny! The workmanship is absolutely fantastic. One of the unique qualities of the Adirondack Carousel, besides the fact that the animals are all native to the region, are the lady bugs and the decorations. I learned about the “romance side” – the right side of each animal, which will be facing out and has most of the added on decorative elements.

Every animal has at least one and usually several ladybugs. Some are carved, some are painted. Some are life-size, one is gigantic! While down on hands and knees applying varnish I discovered one carved lady-bug wearing snorkel googles! On another animal there is a carved fish that is part of the saddle that has a ladybug in it’s mouth! There are painted trilliums, baby bunnies, lily pads and sun-bathing frogs, a monarch butterfly caterpillar, a mouse with a chunk of Swiss cheese – riders will have as much fun examining their rides as they will riding! It’s been said that there will need to be times when the carousel will remain stationary just so people can climb on board and walk around and delightfully examine the animals, discovering all their hidden treasures.

The carousel building is the true example of community spirit. At the corner of Depot St., and Bloomingdale Ave (route 3), it has been entirely built by volunteers. This “barn-raising” has taken months, but the generosity of individuals, organizations, contractors, and businesses has been unmatched. The excavation, foundation, construction, heating, wiring, painting, staining – all done by volunteers. The carousel mechanicals came by truck from Texas and word was put out via Facebook, email, and “mouth” and a volunteer crew was there Monday morning to help.

Doors had to be removed to make room to carry the machinery in. A lift was loaned by a company in Lake Placid. And by 5 pm the skeleton of a carousel was standing. Probably unchanged over the last 100 years, the structure has what looks like giant clock mechanicals or a medieval torture machine in the center. A large geared wheel is at the top. 10 geared, rotating arms project outward to form a 10 sided (decagon) structure overhead. The animals will eventually be mounted to rods attached to the rotating overhead rods. When the carousel turns, the overhead rods will rotate and the animals move up and down. At the outer edge of the upper structure there were some steel rods hanging down – from these the carousel floor will be suspended. It’s an amazing contraption! It will be an amazing carousel.

If construction continues on schedule, the opening date will be May 26, 2012. For more information check Adirondack Carousel or find them on Facebook. Donations will still be accepted.

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Sandra Hildreth

Sandra Hildreth, who writes regularly about Adirondack arts and culture, grew up in rural Wisconsin and is a retired high school art teacher. She lives in Saranac Lake where she was spends much of her time hiking, paddling, skiing, and painting.

Today, Sandy can often be found outdoors Plein air painting - working directly from nature, and is an exhibiting member of the Adirondack Artists' Guild in Saranac Lake. She is also active in Saranac Lake ArtWorks.

Sandy’s work can be seen on her website sandrahildreth.com.




8 Responses

  1. Pete Nelson says:

    I’m curious, from what rural town in Wisconsin do you hail?

    I am excited to see the carousel myself having regularly visited a a park that had one of America’s great old carousels as I was growing up.

  2. Sandra Hildreth says:

    Oddly enough, Hales Corners, WI.

  3. Pete Nelson says:

    When were you last there? Have you attended their 4th of July parade in the last decade? If so, we have “met…”

  4. Sandra Hildreth says:

    I have not been there since 1966!

  5. Marc Wanner says:

    Update: The animals are mounted, the carousel turns, the critters go up and down. There is a lot of work left to do, but it’s definitely looking good!

  6. Editorial Staff says:

    That’s great!

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