It starts with a drawing. A picture is magnified and projected onto the wall, where it is traced onto a large piece of white paper. From there, details are drawn in, as are the “cut marks” to show how the animal is to be cut into more manageable pieces, carved, glued together, then finally painted. It all sounds very simple, but the carvers’ and painters’ responsibilities are formidable.
In the three years since the volunteers started to make the dream of a carousel come true, 107-plus volunteer carvers and artists have spent over 35,000 hours making these animals come to life.
One volunteer makes a 2.5-hour drive from Jewel Ridge, Va., once a week, while another comes from Bristol , Tenn., three days a week, to carve.
Jim Grayson of Bristol comes to Kingsport several times a year, bringing his carousel organ so residents can hear a little of what’s to come, and Bud Ellis of Horsing Around Carving Studio in Soddy Daisy, Tenn., visited Kingsport to teach volunteers how to carve the animals.
All of the animals have stories behind them: the wolf was carved by Kingsport resident Milton Nelson in homage to the Bays Mountain wolf that ran away. Nelson chose the wolf to perhaps “spirit” the runaway to return home to the park. “Courageous” is a horse that was adopted by the wife of a former firefighter and “reimagined” as an armored horse in memory of her husband.
Jessi Odum, a volunteer carver and painter, shared her experiences of working with The Carousel Project for more than a year and a half.
“I received a Fine Arts degree from ETSU in 2004. Then life took over and I found myself working at a job I enjoy, but it isn’t art. When this opportunity arose, I thought ‘Even though I haven’t really used my art training much since graduation, I know I could do this and may never have an opportunity like this again.’ I worked on Reggie’s horse, Woody, Courageous, and the Lynn View Lynx,” Odum said.
“When you’re spending so much time getting the details right, you forget about the bigger picture, so when the animal is finished, and you step back to look at it, it’s like ‘WOW, I helped do this’ and it’s amazing!”
She said she has thoroughly enjoyed meeting and working with other volunteers on the project, too.
“I would never have had the opportunity to meet many of these people and enjoy myself so much. Suzanne Justis (the lead animal painter) has been great too, offering helpful suggestions and making this process so much fun!” Odum said.
Carver Richard Hanks took me on a tour of the four rooms at the Lynn View Community Center that have served as the carvers’ and painters’ studios. He explained that the horse faces the direction the carousel turns and that there are two sides to each animal. The side of the head that faces out is called the “romance” side, while the other side is called the “non-romance” side. There are also several small, but charming animals sitting around on the tables. These are the “sweep animals” for the carousel. Sweeps hold everything on the carousel - nothing is attached to the floor except the large center pole that runs through the middle of the carousel; everything radiates from that center pole.
Completion of the carousel, which will be housed near the Kingsport Farmers Market, is tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2014. To get involved or for more information, call 423-392-8414.