Cafesjian's Carousel
Horse4.jpg

Restoring the Carousel

A Restored Treasure

In a meticulous process that began in 1990 and was completed in spring 2000, Cafesjian's Carousel has been restored to its 1914 appearance. The overhead structure and scenery panels were restored first, during summer and fall of 1990 while the carousel was in pieces awaiting its move to downtown St. Paul. 

Restoration of the horses began in 1993. The carousel's 68 horses and two chariots are wearing mostly their original paint; the carousel is believed to be one of only three operating carousels in the United States to still be in original paint. OFC repaired damage to the horses, but left alone signs of normal use, such as worn edges on some of the horses' trappings. Our aim was to reflect the age and history of the carousel. 

Several horses were badly burned in a fire in 1939. The most damaged was a pinto pony, which workers stripped and repainted after the fire. The pinto was the last horse to be restored by Our Fair Carousel. It was stripped again and any signs of original paint were noted. Then it was repainted in keeping with those observations and some existing photos taken before the fire. 

Restoration expert Rosa Ragan of North Carolina helped develop the plan and guidelines for the restoration, and she trained the initial crew of volunteer workers. Linda McDonald, an artist who had played a leading role in recreating the scenery panels, became the lead volunteer and then was hired to complete the painting of the horses. Her work has made her an accomplished carousel restoration artist.

A member of the board of directors of Our Fair Carousel, Inc., McDonald maintains the appearance of the horses and chariot, touching them up periodically.

Original Paint Restoration

Because the horses on this carousel were ridden only a few days each year for the first 75 years of their lives, most are still in the original paint applied by Philadelphia Toboggan Company painter Gus Weiss in 1914. However, thick layers of varnish had turned dark brown over the years, and some horses had been touched up with gaudy paint that covered over the original painter's work.

Alligator Horse after the restoration

Alligator Horse after the restoration

Volunteers working under the supervision of restorer Linda McDonald painstakingly removed all of the varnish and non-original paint, revealing the original paint. McDonald then sealed the original paint with a barrier coat and "inpainted" to fill in scratches, marks and damaged areas, carefully matching the original colors. The alligator and trappings on this horse, like trappings on many of the horses, feature gold and silver leaf and colorful glazes.

About 15 of the horses were damaged in a fire in 1939 and were entirely repainted that year. OFC workers were able to find traces of original paint and to repaint those horses in accordance with their original color schemes. Two patches were left to show the extent of burning, one on the side of a horse and one on a knee – see Burnt Knee Horse and Charred Patch Horse.

Recreating Scenery Panels

Volunteers installing the rounding board panels

Volunteers installing the rounding board panels

The carousel features 18 scenery panels on the rounding boards, or the upper rim of the carousel. When some of the original panels were destroyed by fire in 1939, the paintings were hastily replaced by rather crudely executed drawings. Although the drawings were poorly done, they seem to have represented the original subjects; they are quite similar to subjects used on other Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousels of the same era.

In the 1950s, the rough replacement drawings were painted over with a red-and-white scroll design, which remained in place until 1990. After painstaking work to uncover the underlying drawings, OFC commissioned an artist to recreate the scenes in the style of PTC painter Max Soltmann. Volunteers from the Twin Cities Decorative Artists Guild and Northland Decorative Painters painted the scenes directly on the metal rounding boards. 

The serpentine design

The serpentine design

The volunteers also stenciled a floral pattern inside the rounding boards and stenciled hundreds of feet of pattern along the upper structure (the long timbers known as sweeps and spreaders) of the carousel. The work was done while the carousel was disassembled for its move from the Minnesota State Fair to Town Square Park in St. Paul. Note the floral design flanking each painting. After further research, the flowers were replaced by the serpentine design. 

Wood Repair

Dick Kenfield works on a mirror panel

Dick Kenfield works on a mirror panel

Over the years, wooden carousel animals develop wear and damage. When Our Fair Carousel purchased PTC 33 from the family that had been operating it at the Minnesota State Fair, many horses had broken ears, loose tails, and loose or poorly repaired joints. In addition, some had broken legs. Since the operating season was only several days long at the fair, breaks had often been repaired hastily, and sometimes badly. 

Beginning in 1993, Our Fair Carousel volunteers worked on each horse to repair actual damage but not to eliminate signs of natural wear. For example, volunteers removed metal clips that had been used to hold pieces together and reglued them properly. They recarved shattered knees and broken ears, but they left alone areas that had simply worn down. In one case, an Ovaltine can which had been used to hold a leg together was put back in place after the leg was repaired, in tribute to a long-ago worker's ingenuity. The late Dick Kenfield did the wood repair on most of the carousel's most valuable horses.

Painstaking Restoration

Using a paintbrush, a volunteer applies solvent to remove varnish. Workers wore protective masks and gloves at all times.

Using a paintbrush, a volunteer applies solvent to remove varnish. Workers wore protective masks and gloves at all times.

In addition to removing varnish, workers removed non-original paint, which was found especially on trappings and faces.

In addition to removing varnish, workers removed non-original paint, which was found especially on trappings and faces.

The horse's face is brown from layers of darkened varnish. Removing varnish revealed the original light gray paint, as seen on the leg, where the volunteer is applying a new small patch of solvent.

The horse's face is brown from layers of darkened varnish. Removing varnish revealed the original light gray paint, as seen on the leg, where the volunteer is applying a new small patch of solvent.

Volunteers worked with small blades and dental tools to remove old varnish without removing the original paint beneath it.

Volunteers worked with small blades and dental tools to remove old varnish without removing the original paint beneath it.

After applying a barrier coat, Linda McDonald touches up the paint on a small horse.

After applying a barrier coat, Linda McDonald touches up the paint on a small horse.