July 22, 2013

Ups and downs happen.  We think of ups as happy and downs as sad.  But what about the ups and downs of  animals on a brightly colored carousel?  Who doesn’t smile when they see the animals on a carousel going round and round?

They have certainly made the 50,000 people of Albany, Oregon, happy.  Slowly, colorfully, creatively, these carousel creatures are changing this town’s depression when the local timber economy weakened.  In 2002, a lady named Wendy Kirbey, proposed a menagerie on a Victorian-style carousel to the city.  A budget of $150 and a handful of volunteers got to work carving the fanciful animals.

Now 300 people have donated 150,000 hours doing what it takes to chisel, sand, and paint a roaring Chinese dragon, a horse with a fish tail, a Chinook salmon with a lily pad saddle and over 4,000 sculpted scales, among other creatures.  Money comes into the program through an adoption system for each of the 52 animals, some with personal touches suggested by the adopters.

There are talented volunteers who once worked with the likes of George Lucas, but there’s a place for retired art teachers, an auto body shop owner, and adults who haven’t lost a child’s sense of play.  Even without being on a carousel yet, the animals attract many visitors.  They are put on display in local hotels, restaurants, and shops for all to see.  As many as 2000 visitors a month come to tour the workshop where the work is in progress.

But what about the carousel for the animals to ride on?  In 2003, the great grandson of Gustave Dentzel came to the rescue.  Descended from a family of earliest carousel builders, he donated a 1909 carousel mechanism that was updated by former machinists of the Albany paper mill.  When all 52 animals are finished, the working carousel will be set up to attract a permanent crowd of happy visitors.

And that’s one very creative way, very effective way of putting smiles back on many faces.

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