The carousel at Saranac Lake is a community work of art, and part of the town’s renaissance.
|Best Buds, 11X14, Carol L. Douglas. I tried to recapture that kaleidoscope feeling of riding on a carousel as a child.|
Serendipity is a beautiful thing. If I hadn’t stopped at Saranac Lake Artworks to collect a 5x7 canvas for the silent auction, I’d have painted from Route 3 looking down on the village. Instead, I decided to stop by and see the carousel, since I was downtown anyway. I’d heard it features local animals. I thought that I might like to bring my grandkids up someday. Instead, I found inspiration for a very happy painting.
|The Adirondack Carousel, courtesy of AdirondackCarousel.org.|
Saranac Lake is on the upswing these days, with the newly-renovated Hotel Saranac and a $10 million economic development grant from the state. But the carousel is also part of this trend, very popular among locals and visitors. It’s a story of how art helps transform communities.
Local woodcarver Karen Loffler read about a tiny Northwestern children’s carousel fitted with four woodland animals and filed the thought away. During a visit to the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, it sprang back again, but this time in the form of a classic American carousel from the last century.
|Sandra Hildreth has to tell me why my buddy has colored teeth.|
“I just thought, why can't we build one in Saranac Lake?” she told the Syracuse Post-Standard. Well, lots of people have such big ideas; few can muster others to get it done.
In 2001, Karen met with a group of local residents, who promptly formed a non-profit board to bring the idea forward. It took twelve years, countless volunteer hours, and $1.3 million in fundraising. In 2006, the Village of Saranac Lake donated land for the carousel’s home at William Morris Park. Ground was broken in 2011, and it officially opened in 2012. It’s a 3600-square foot space that includes the carousel, a gallery, workshop, store and classroom. There’s a playground outside in the park.
|Raccoon and skunk are fellow banditos. The animals are often paired in delightful ways.|
The result is indistinguishable in craftsmanship from the great carousels once produced in North Tonawanda. Yet it’s distinctly local, and clearly beloved by children. Many of them stopped by to see what I was doing. “Look, Mom! She’s painting John Deer!” they exclaimed.
|A very red squirrel, bald eagle, and a bouncing fox.|
The pavilion has 24 handcrafted wildlife animals, eighteen of which are on duty at any one time. Do I have a favorite? How could I, when they’re all so perfect? (You can see them here.) I think the black bear, decked out in the colors of the Hudson’s Bay Company point blanket, captured my attention first. Later, I read that it had been painted by my pal Sandra Hildreth. But each animal has its particular charms—except maybe the black fly.
|A loon with a lily-pad saddle.|
There’s a wheelchair accessible ride in the form of a Chris Craft boat. The overhead scenes of Saranac Lake were painted by local artists, as were the floral medallions. A local blacksmith made the weathervane, and a local carpenter built the ticket counter. The building was painted and stained by volunteers. The result is distinctly local, happy, and very Adirondack.
|Bunny is beautiful, but Porcupine—oh, my!|
The ride never stops in the same place, so I was better off painting it while it turned. I’ve painted a ride in motion once before, a Tilt-a-Whirl at Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester, NY. There is a rhythm of looking that works for a constantly-revolving object. Of course, after several hours of this, my head was spinning.
The girl is a complete invention, vaguely reminiscent of a kid I know in Maine named Meredith Lewis. I debated on the title for quite a while, finally settling on Best Buds. Even if my girl is riding the otter, her heart belongs to John Deer.