Friday, April 22, 2011

A Leap of Imagination

The following is an online archive of our newest exhibit in the Placer County Museum Treasury.
Click on photos to see larger versions

The emotional and romantic appeal of the carousel 
rests in the saddles of its fanciful 
and exquisitely carved beasts.

 Jumping horse c. 1912 
Charles Carmel 
(Jewels added by M.D. Borelli) 
American (Coney Island Style) 
Painted wood (restored)

The whirl of the carousel, vibrant colors and lights, band organ music, and incredibly beautiful horses are irresistible for children of all ages. Once mounted in the saddle, you can become a veiled princess astride a pet tiger, a bronco riding cowboy, or a dueling knight atop a thundering charger. It is this leap of imagination that made carousels the most popular American amusement ride during the Golden Age of carousels that stretched from 1900 to World War II.

Prancing horse c. 1880 
Charles I.D. Looff 
American (Coney Island Style) 
Park paint on wood

 Standing horse c. 1910 
Charles Carmel 
American (Coney Island Style) 
Painted wood (Restored)

 Jumping horse c. 1911 
Marcus Illions 
American (Coney Island Style) 
Stripped wood

These elaborately carved animals continue to captivate audiences today primarily as works of art rather than as amusement park rides. To define their enduring appeal we need only look for the twinkle in an adult’s eye as they return to their childhood memories or watch a young child enter a fantasy world of horses, bears, swans and lions.


Many companies carved both large park carousels and small portable carousels in Europe and England.

The French produced many barnyard animals such as rabbits, pigs, cows, horses, and delightful dogs and cats.

Jumping rabbit c. 1900 
Gustave Bayol 
French (Portable carousel) 
Park paint on wood

The German carvers, along with carving elegant horses, carved many lions, tigers and bears.

Small jumping horse c. 1910 
Freidrich Heyn 
German (Portable carousel) 
Painted wood

Standing bear c. 1890 
Freidrich Heyn 
Stripped/stained wood

 The animals produced in Mexico were animated, well-muscled, brightly painted and often small for whirling aboard portable fiesta carousels.

Standing bear c. 1940s 
Carver Unknown 
Mexican (Portable carousel) 
Restored stain/paint on wood

The English round-a-bouts all rotate in a clockwise direction whereas American, European and Mexican carousels turn counter-clockwise. The fancy or romance side faces outward.

Jumping horse c. 1890 
G. &  J. Lines 
English galloper (Mark) 
Park paint on wood


Most carousels only have horses and often two chariots. The addition of menagerie animals brings both whimsical and bold choices.

Swan with interior seat c. 1904 
Gustave Bayol 
French (Portable carousel) 
Park paint on wood

It is the brave rider who selects a roaring tiger or lion.

Standing tiger c. 1895
Gottfried Bungarz
American (Coney Island Style)
Park paint on wood

Another might happily choose a flirting rabbit, friendly dog, cat, camel, ostrich, zebra, pig or bear.

Standing camel c. 1905 
Daniel Muller 
American (Philadelphia Style) 
Original paint on wood

Regardless of what animal is chosen, the rider's imagination transforms wood and paint into a magical adventure. Spinning them into a flight of fantasy before it deposits them safely into the real world, forever changed by the journey.