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Arts & Culture

Small Town Is Home To Hand-Carved Carousel With Adirondack Scenes

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

As this new century dawned, an artist in a small town in upstate New York had a vision to build a carousel that featured scenes and animals from the Adirondack Mountain region and have it crafted exclusively by local artists. That carrousel opened in 2012. Reporter Karen Michel took a ride and sent us this postcard.

KAREN MICHEL, BYLINE: I have a thing about carousels. I don't know why, but I love them. So when I took a wrong turn in the tiny town of Saranac Lake, it was fortuitous, for there was the finest carousel I've ever seen - the most beautiful and the sweetest - willed, fundraised and carved and painted into being by a well-meaning bunch of local folks.

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RICH CRAFT: We knew we had limitations in this neighborhood. You know, there aren't that many people up here.

MICHEL: Rich Craft was part of the original crew of artists.

CRAFT: My main reason for joining the carousel was to carve, but unfortunately it didn't quite happen that way. But the main and most important thing is that it did happen.

MICHEL: Kraft designed the building for the carousel and figures he spent more than a hundred hours just doing the finishing work on one of the figures - a black fly, four and a half feet long.

CRAFT: Which, as we've always joked, was the only life-size animal on the carousel. Now you have an opportunity to get on their back as opposed to them on your back.

MICHEL: It's an alluring insect with lustrous wings. There are plenty of other ridable Adirondack creatures. So far I've been on the Otter, the beaver and the draft horse. And there's a giant bass, a porcupine, an eagle, a skunk a bobcat and a snowshoe hare, all of them with poles poking through the middles, bobbing up and down - sweet.

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MICHEL: But getting the carousel approved by the community and the project from dream to done was problematic.

CARL BORST: Exactly. Exactly. They started off on a project that they had no idea where to go with it, you know?

MICHEL: Carl Borst, aged 83, gave up an oil and heating business to become a professional woodcarver.

BORST: (Laughter). Yeah, they call me carving Carl.

MICHEL: In the shop behind his home, Borst unfurls the drawing for the eagle, one of the many of his carvings that are all over the carousel.

BORST: There. See, it's pretty much the same.

MICHEL: You could call him the fixer, who cleaned up the work of what he calls wannabe carvers. The first deer was...

BORST: The neck was too far down on the body. You know how a camel's head goes down and up? Well, that's the way the deer was.

MICHEL: While local artists didn't end up doing all the final carving, like Sandy Hildreth, they did most of the painting.

SANDY HILDRETH: I think I added trilliums to the decoration on the otter. I painted a yellow swallowtail butterfly on the shoulder of the black bear.

MICHEL: Hildreth coordinated the artists who painted the rounding boards, the panels near the top of the carousel. They feature Adirondack scenes - snowy winters, frozen lakes.

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MICHEL: With two rows of animals, it's not the biggest carousel. But to locals and visitors, it's mighty special. And in exchange for his thousands of hours of work on it, Carl Borst gets to ride anytime he wants.

BORST: Oh, yeah, yeah. You know, I - that was my payment. I got a lifetime free ride every time I go there (laughter). That was my fee (laughter).

MICHEL: Sounds mighty good to me. For NPR News, I'm Karen Michel in upstate New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.