Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Carousels, Past and Present

Friday's New York Times had a review of what sounds like a really interesting new show at the American Folk Art Museum, 'GILDED LIONS AND JEWELED HORSES: THE SYNAGOGUE TO THE CAROUSEL.' The show is devoted to the work of Jewish immigrant artisans who applied techniques from traditional Eastern European Jewish woodcarving styles to the secular American tradition of carousel building. The tradition apparently died out after the World War I, when carousel horses started to be made out of fiberglass instead of wood. Naturally, any story about turn of the century American carousels has to have a Coney Island angle to it.
In the carousel horses everything seen in the paper cuts and synagogue carvings is amplified. The animals are three-dimensional rather than two, and there is a greater amount of dynamism: bared teeth, tossing heads, flying manes, lavish armor decorated with glass jewels. The artists here all passed through the carousel manufacturer William F. Mangels's shop in Brooklyn, and while they developed their own characteristics, collectively their work became known as the Coney Island Style.
The review also mentions one wood carver's tragic Coney Island connection: "A sad chapter in Mr. Carmel's career came when his carousel built for Dreamland Park in Coney Island burned to the ground with the rest of the park the day before it was to open in 1911."

In more recent carousel news, the city's Coney Island Development Corporation is still in the midst of their month long search for a consultant to help restore and rebuild the 88-year-old B&B Carousel. The city bought the carousel (the last remaining wooden one at Coney Island) for $1.8 million dollars in 2005. There was a decent article in the New York Times on the B&B Carousel situation a couple of weeks ago. I have to say, the Times seem to be doing a pretty good job of covering carousel issues lately. For anyone who needs more though, there is always The Carousel News & Trader

October 2, 2007 - March 23, 2008

American Folk Art Museum
45 West 53rd Street New York NY 10019

- post by Ben Nadler

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