First order of business for Kingsport’s newly minted horse carvers was to find and establish a place to carve. Kingsport Carousel Project needed a space to set up shop. Poor Milton Nelson was driving around with a horse’s head in the back seat of his car! Several attempts were made to have the carving studio in Kingsport’s burgeoning downtown area. However, with very little resources, free trumps all other possibilities. As fate would have it, the City of Kingsport had just acquired the Lynn View Community Center. Formerly the Lynn View High School, this property had more recently been a private school but was now a facility in need of some serious love! Kingsport Parks and Recreation took on the task of breathing life into the center and quickly invited the carvers to set up shop. As usual, that sounds easier than it was. Paint was scraped off windows. Ragged walls were repaired and white boards installed. Broken floor tiles were repaired and each and every work station was built to order – most of this work done by our amazing Horsemen – who by this time had recruited a few more volunteers.
The Kingsport Carousel Project continued to grow. The annual Farm Expo of January 2011 sponsored by the Kingsport Times-News was certainly a great place to recruit carvers! Many of our talented carvers found their way to the project through this event. The project certainly was gaining momentum. Several animals were underway, carvers were being sent to Soddy Daisy to be taught by Bud Ellis but many carvers were being taught right here in Kingsport. For both efforts a fee was charged. Carvers understood that the animals they were working on would eventually be gifted to the city as part of the Carousel. The deal with the carvers was that when their animal was sponsored they would receive reimbursement for the instruction fees they paid. This arrangement helped purchase the bass wood from which each animal is carved.
With carvers recruited and animals in production, it was time to turn attention to the frame. A carousel frame is made of the floor, poles, sweeps and rounding boards, gears and electric motor. This is the mechanism that makes the carousel go round and round, up and down. The Horsemen and a newly created committee had been on the lookout for a frame. There are several national magazines that advertise the sale of carousel frames and Dan Horenberger is a broker who specializes in finding, buying and selling carousel frames. Early on the Kingsport Carousel leadership team connected Dan and had actually considered pursuing several options. There was a frame in Houston about the right size – but transportation from Houston would be challenging and it cost $15,000. Then there was an older and larger frame in Pennsylvania that cost almost $40,000. Once again, those resources were not available, but the team kept researching and talking with Dan Horenberger. And then came opportunity and serendipty. The Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Connecticut had replaced their frame several years prior and had put the old frame in storage. Well the time had come that the zoo officials were ready to quit paying on the storage and rid themselves of the old frame. They connected with Dan who had a surplus of inventory due to a market heavily affected by the recent Great Recession. But Dan is a Carousel lover and knew the volunteers in Kingsport might make a good connection. Dan re-directed the Beardsley Zoo and suggested that Kingsport might be a match.
The winter of 2011 had been a real winter. January and mid-February had seen several measurable snows and there was snow on the ground when Ted and Reggie brought digital images to share with Bonnie. As they looked over images of the meticulously stored frame that was just the right size, Bonnie asked “Do you want it?” and Reggie and Ted agreed, “Yes, let’s get it.” In the back and forth of communication the zoo director had learned more and more about the efforts of the Kingsport Carousel volunteers so that when Reggie indicated an interest in the frame, the zoo director said “ If you’ll come get it, we will give it to you.” Mayor Phillips had been following this quest for a frame so Bonnie promptly informed him of this great opportunity. That afternoon, Reggie and Bonnie met with Mayor Phillips and Tom Still at Still Transfer, a local moving company. Yes, as luck would have it, Still Transfer had a truck in the New York area that would be returning to Kingsport empty. They could pick up the frame. This was Thursday afternoon. The moving truck would be in Connecticut on Saturday. Reggie called Ted and asked him to join him and the next day the two of them drove hours through snowy countryside to get to Bridgeport. On Saturday, the empty truck arrived at the zoo. The zoo staff had actually cleared a tennis court so that the pieces of the carousel frame could be brought out of storage and laid out properly to be put in the moving truck in an orderly fashion. To hear Reggie tell the story, the frame was then loaded onto the truck by all available hands, which on a snowy Saturday in February included the moving truck drivers, Reggie, Ted, zoo maintenance and staff and a band of boy scouts! Kingsport had a frame! The truck arrived in Kingsport on Tuesday and moved into a make shift place that has become restoration central made ready by the impromptu but willing efforts of the Kingsport Public Works team.
Carousel work continued throughout 2011 and more carvers were recruited. Painters were also recruited. To enable all who would like to participate, Carousel leadership tapped local artist Suzanne Barrett Justis as lead artist for the animal painting. Suzanne Justis taught groups of volunteers – who paid a class fee – to paint the animals carved by the volunteer carvers. In this way over 50 people have participated in making the carousel a reality through their efforts painting animals and chariots.
The Kingsport Carousel also needed new rounding board panels. The panels from the Beardsley zoo frame had featured scenes of the nearby Connecticut coastline. The Carousel leadership team recruited artist Ellen Elmes to layout a new set of scenes that would feature Kingsport regional history up to the year of the Herschell frame’s date of manufacture, 1956. These scenes feature history from Native Americans through westward expansion and industrial development and the nostalgic cruising Broad Street. Twenty-two volunteers paid for classes and instruction and have created what is sure to be another treasure of the carousel project.
The Beardsley Carousel also had 24 clown faces as internal decoration. Certainly clowns have their place, but our carousel team had another idea. Kingsport is a recognized bird sanctuary and recently Rack Cross had actively and successfully promoted the Kingsport Birding Trail and the various location in Kingsport where the beautiful birds could be spotted. It did not take much arm-twisting to get Rack to give the carousel a list of 24 colorful, indigenous birds that could be a part of the Kingsport Carousel. This time JoAnne McDonough served as lead artist following the pattern laid out by Ellen Elmes. At this writing, almost all bird paintings have been completed by 24 different artists. And they are beautiful!