by Patrick K. Robinson
My journey has taken me to Southern PA (Lewisburg, Bucks County area) and into Delaware. This story again goes back to my early days of driving as a teenager but now traveling out further.
Why so far you ask? Since being a toy collector and collector of other children-related things like sports cards and comics, I really ended up liking certain carnival collectibles, circus-related items, and so forth. The larger carousel figures were right in line with all of these other items for me. I was traveling to these southern areas of PA on some hot leads to potentially see a couple carousel figures, meeting with a few buyers I worked with that I would broker items for – items that they purchased from entire estates or deaccession sales from different museums.
The deaccession sales were rather interesting because they would be officially removing listed holdings from museums, or an art gallery, typically to sell them in order to raise funds. So not only is it exciting to get to see all kinds of items from multi-million dollar estates, some ten million or more, but to again learn from some of these buyers. I will admit too that it was exciting to see some of these carousels that were totally carved with so much detail and hand painted in very beautiful colors.
It, too, brought back some great memories of riding on these older carousel creations as a child. I remember how I felt as a young boy riding the carousels at Knoebels Park and also at Hansen’s Park at Harvey’s Lake, PA.
We all arrive at this old factory-type building and you could just smell the old parks that you’ve been to, all stored and shut up inside this place, and off in the corner I could see the image of a covered-up horse. I again thought of Hansen’s Park and trying to grab the brass ring in order to get a free ride. If you grabbed a plastic one it didn’t count, although there never seemed to be a loser as the guy operating this chain-driven carousel always had candy for the plastic ring holders.
After uncovering the horse, I right away saw this one was a little more of a folk art piece, as it was less detailed in its carving, and was a brown painted piece with some color but not a lot, but I will have to say, still very cool. Just being in this building with all this history was cool!
You will notice a picture in this article of a folk art-style brown horse and this was kind of similar to the one I brokered all those years ago, being 17 or 18 years old at the time. The simpler type horse like the brown one was actually made with these parallel legs that were made to come apart easier as to travel them from county fair to fair or to a carnival.
The brownish more simple horse in the photo is a 1912 C.W. Parker county fair carousel at Fireman’s Park in Brenham, Texas. It was produced for Armitage Herschell and was probably on a track machine (copywrite, Rebecca Nance, via carousels.org). The other carousel horse is certainly one I would dream of brokering. It is from the golden age of carousels (roughly 1890 to 1920’s), was hand carved in great detail and hand painted. Dated 1914, it is from the Herschell-Spillman carousel at Golden Gate Park (copywrite, Aaron Shepard, via carousel.org).
All being said, the folk art style horse still brought thousands, just not five figures like the more detailed golden age example. The one I had discovered was more from the 1940s or 1950’s, but still desirable because in the 1980’s carousel figures of all kinds were a hot commodity. The other interesting point while on this trip, I met a couple of very wealthy buyers that were on the hunt to buy an entire carousel set up to restore and save from being separated and sold as individual pieces. Here we are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A little more interesting information for you, the name carousel derives from carosello, an Italian word meaning little war. Little war was said to be a medieval game Turkish soldiers would play on horseback. At some point it is said that English and German soldiers used to train the same way to practice spearing with their lances. Remember earlier in this article that I mentioned the fun we had grabbing the brass ring on the carousel at Hansen’s Park? Well that came from young boys training with spearing techniques by practicing spearing through brass rings as target practice.
To continue with the deal I was brokering in Southern PA: I arranged for the sale and delivery of the Southern PA carousel folk art style horse to a buyer in New England, and all went well. Both parties were happy and I had the pleasure of closing another deal and able to relive the feelings of these great creations in carousel history and, most importantly, the great energy of saving a piece of history. I certainly dream of the day I get to broker a true Golden Age carousel figure from the 1800’s for five figures.
I was motivated to share this story because, along with this, we at Kitson Arts Alliance have the honor of working with one of our member artists, Jennifer Sause Brennan, who sculpts carousel figures that are mounted on poles just like a figure on a carousel, and the pole is put into a beautiful wood base that comes from her own property. The materials she sculpts with are made up of natural fibers for strength as well as a clay slip kind of material along with other ingredients, all natural, and then mixed in a mixer. What comes next is true artisan creativity as you can see by the pictures of her horse, tiger and even Dumbo!
Jennifer forms these amazing works of art all by hand and then skillfully hand paints each one. I will say each one is different from the next, so when you get one, you will never see the same one anywhere else. If you’d like to purchase one, they are currently on display and for sale at the Kitson Gallery in Tunkhannock, PA. The cost is $110.00 each, and they are roughly 16 inches tall. The Kitson Gallery is open from 11am to 7pm on Saturdays and Fourth Fridays all year round from 3pm to 8pm. You may also call me at 570-499-5484 for an appointment anytime.
You will also get to see not only carousel figures but many other awesome forms and creations of Jennifer’s ranging from $20.00 all the way up to the previously-mentioned $110.00 and every price in between, so owning your own piece of great art doesn’t have to be costly.
The Kitson Gallery will also have Jennifer Sause Brennan’s creations during the North Branch Art Trail’s Route 6 Open House Gallery Tour on November 8, 9, and 10 from 11 am to 7 pm each day.
Thank you for spending this time with me and I wish you happy art, antique, collectible and rarity hunting. I would also love to hear your story of collecting. You know the how, what, when, where, and why of your collection. Please email your information to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you again.
There is still a wealth of information to learn about carousel antiques, so we recommend you go check out carousel.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Patrick K. Robinson is a life-long collector (since the ripe old age of nine), antiques specialist, and kid-at-heart entrepreneur who is passionate about hearing YOUR stories about the items YOU collect, the cherished antique YOU’VE acquired, the family heirloom YOU’D like to know more about. Co-founder & Creative Director of the Kitson Arts Alliance and owner of Robinson Group International (offering great collectibles online at HotGavel.com) and Tunkhannock’s Kitson Gallery at Pen Corners, Patrick invites kids of all ages (7 to 77 and beyond) to share your story by contacting him at email@example.com or by visiting his Facebook page, Kitson Gallery.