Dynasty and the New England Carousel Museum: Part 2

In our last blog post, we introduced you some of the work being done by the restoration artists at the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Connecticut. With the help of NECM Restoration Department Manager Lisa Gibson-Ronalter, in this post we will explore all of the steps involved in the restoration, painting, preserving of carousel horses.

An example of what the horses look like when they arrive at NECM.
The NECM staff includes Master Carver Juan Andreu and his apprentice Chris. They start out by removing any old paint left on the horse using a heat gun. A chemical paint stripper cannot be used because liquid paint removers could soak into--and potentially damage--the old wood. 

Next the Master Carver inspects the wood and repairs any damage done to the surface. Often these horses show years worth of wear and tear. 

Once the wood body is repaired, hand sanding follows--starting with course grit paper, then medium, and finally fine grit sandpaper. After the delicate bits are protected (eyes, glass jewels, etc.) the whole body of the horse is coated in shellac.  Several thin primer coats follow, with hand sanding happening after each prime coat is dry. Thin layers of primer along with sanding help to preserve all of those remarkable carved details that really bring the horse to life. 

Using photographs for reference, a color palette is selected and mixed to match the source colors. Japan oil colors are used. If needed, gold leaf is applied during this stage. 

At this point, painting can now begin! Master Paint Judy Baker along with Restoration Artist Lisa Gibson-Ronalter use oil paints to create a blended finish on the body that resembles horse hair. Great care is taken to provide a realistic look to each section of the horse--a mane flowing in the wind, a woven blanket tucked underneath a leather saddle. Highlights and lowlights support the depth of the meticulously carving. Once the painted piece has cured, a protective clear coat is applied.

Fully restored carousel horse for Sonny's Place Carousel
You can see examples of the fine work of the New England Carousel Museum artists and restorers on carousels throughout New England. 

Thank you so much to both Lisa Gibson-Ronalter and NECM Executive Director Morgan Urgo for their sharing their process (and photos) with us!