Carousel Works preserves the art of making wooden carousels with a new creation at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Sheehan Hannan
Carousels conjure visions of bygone days, plinking music and mythical creatures. Though wooden merry-go-rounds may seem like a distant memory, Carousel Works is keeping the craft alive — hand-carving 64 figures for a new carousel, which was scheduled to open May 30 at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
As the largest wooden carousel maker in the United States, the Mansfield company's projects can be found rotating from coast to coast and at sea on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. "To do something that no one else in the world is doing right now is just fun," says Don Blakley, carving department supervisor.
Opening in the Circle of Wildlife area along with the kid-centric Nature Discovery Ridge, the 54-foot carousel features eight figures designed specifically for the zoo. Blakley tells us how his team transformed rough cuts of basswood into these four rideable wonders.
To accommodate the immense, slender snout on this crocodilian, Blakley had to balance strength with length when designing this all-new figure. So he shrunk its prodigious schnoz down to a more manageable size, all while working with the basswood's natural direction. "It's light, it's fairly easy to carve, and it's straight-grained," he says. "It's ideal for carousels."
These 7-inch-tall swimmers hardly make a good surface to mount a saddle when formed into a carousel animal. Blakley solved the problem by leaning the seahorse forward slightly, leaving just enough room for a textured seashell seat. "Sometimes you have to lose the natural position just to acquire the feasibility of making a carousel figure," he says.
Black Rhino Baby
Black rhino Juba was born at the zoo in 2012, and this creature is the first of its kind made by Carousel Works. Blakley focused on rounding the baby's curves before sanding and painting. "The ideal situation is to get those areas as smooth with your carving tool as you can, so when the sanding aspect takes over you're not having to grind big divots and chunks out," he says.
Despite their name, these South African natives are closer to the mongoose than your average tabby. To illustrate the burrower's frantic movements, Blakley posed the meerkat in mid-stride. "The strength of the wood dictates somewhat where the legs will go," he says. "The theory is — as the carousel is going around — they're running. So we generally have a stretched-out pose."
With 55 merry-go-rounds to its name, Carousel Works has carved its way to the top of the business — working on original creations and historic restorations.
Euclid Beach Carousel
It's been more than 45 years since this iconic ride spun at Euclid Beach Park. But the restored 1910 carousel will be open to Euclid Beach fans and newcomers alike Nov. 23 at the Western Reserve Historical Society. 10825 East Blvd., Cleveland, 216-721-5722, wrhs.org
Akron Zoo Carousel
Finished in 2010, this outdoor merry-go-round is focused on conservation, with 33 figures and one chariot. It also marked the premiere of yet another adorable original figure — a baby moose. 500 Edgewood Ave., Akron, 330-375-2550, akronzoo.org
Chapel Hill Mall Carousel
This traditional 36-foot creation features 30 animals, including a panda, a rabbit, an ostrich and a tiger. But the real star of the show is a swashbuckling pirate cat — complete with a hook for a paw, eye-patch and sword. 2000 Brittain Road, Akron, 330-633-7100, chapelhillmall.com