Keeping the art of carousels alive

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

The spotlight will be placed on the artwork of the carousel on July 19.

The Bristol Historical Society will host “Amusement Park Restoration Art— An Evening with artists William Finkenstein and Cortlandt Hull.”

Hull said the program was his idea and he pitched it to the BHS program committee.

“There hasn’t been a program on the restoration of carousels,” said Bristol resident Hull. “I thought it would be really interesting for people to get an insight into what is really needed to restore these pieces.”

“If we don’t keep telling this story that were’ talking about… we’re going to lose this art form like a lot of art forms,” said Finkenstein, who lives in Plainville.

“People look at these amazing pieces of art and don’t realize it really is an art,” said Hull.

“We have to tell the story about this immigrant who came off the boat and he had a satchel filled with tools and look at what he was able to do,” said Finkenstein, who was the original founder and designer of the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol

Hull has been responsible for restoring the scenic portion of carousels under restoration for many years. He often accompanies Finkenstein, who has a studio in Plainville where he restores the carousel horses and other animals that are found on the rides.

“At the turn of the century, the artisans… didn’t sign their artwork on the carousels,” said Finkenstein. “It wasn’t that they were ashamed of their work. It was that it was part of the carny industry and the carny industry didn’t have the best reputation… They took a lot of pride in their art work.”

Hull has worked with Finkenstein on several restoration projects. Hull said when they begin the work, Finkenstein does some detective work as to what the original color schemes of the horses were. He will strip away layer by layer of the paint that has been applied over the years.

Once Finkenstein has determined the color scheme that reflects its original Victorian era hues, Hull said he will paint a scenic that complements it.

For his part, Finkenstein said, “I want to paint the carousel in such a way the youngster has to stand there not knowing which way to run first.”

“I want him to get excited by not only that horse there but that horse over there,’ said Finkenstein.

At the July 19 event, Hull and Finkenstein will speak about one of their most recent carousel restorations in Binghamton, N.Y.

Hull said he knew that Rod Serling, the creator of the TV shows “Twilight Zone” and “Outer Limits” came from Binghamton. And he wanted to work with Finkenstein on a restoration that reflected Serling’s origins in that upstate New York City.

After getting permission from CBS (which aired Serling’s show) and Serling’s family, Hull began to sketch plans for a scenic that incorporated an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” called “Walking Distance” as well as other well-known episodes.

“Walking Distance,” said Hull, illustrates best Serling’s connection to the carousel in Binghamton. The story is about a man who goes back in time to when he was a youth. And while he is in the past, he rides a carousel he rode as a child.

Hull said the carousel used for filming was selected because of its similarities to the one that Serling rode in Binghamton as a child. The carousel meant so much to Serling, Hull said he wanted the restoration to reflect that.

“Amusement Park Restoration Art— An Evening with artists William Finkenstein and Cortlandt Hull” will be presented Thursday, July 19 at 7 p.m. in the Bristol Historical Society at 98 Summer St., Bristol.

BHS members are admitted free, while the general public’s admission fee is $5. Light refreshments will be served.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

William Finkenstein and his son Gabe pose next to a carousel horse in the midst of restoration at WRF Designs on East Main Street, Plainville. William Finkenstein and Cortlandt Hull of Bristol will speak about the art of carousel restoration at a program presented at the Bristol Historical Society on July 19. (MIKE CHAIKEN PHOTO)

Artist Cortlandt Hull is seen with a sketch that eventually will become part of a scenic on a restored carousel. Hull and William Finkenstein of Plainville will speak about the art of carousel restoration at a program presented at the Bristol Historical Society on July 19. (MIKE CHAIKEN PHOTO)