The Merry Jester
My favorite time to photograph an outdoor carousel is just before sunset. That’s when it comes to life, when it’s just dark enough for the glow of the bulbs to be visible, yet there’s still enough daylight to give it form.
This jester shield was the inspiration for the entire State Fair USA project. Three years ago I was taking a few snapshots of this Dentzel-style carousel by Chance Morgan rides at the Indiana State Fair, not really planning to do anything with them. I like to stare at pretty things, and having a camera in my hand gives me an excuse to do so without looking like a creepy staring person.
The more I looked, that more mesmerized I was by the quality of the craftsmanship on this ride. Even though it was molded plastic, not carved like the wooden carousels of yesteryear, I could see the hands of the artists who created it. The face and foliage were rendered with skill, care, and sensitivity, with a fluidity that surpassed most of the original wooden carvings I’ve seen. I guess I didn’t expect much from portable touring carnival rides, but I was wrong. This wasn’t mass produced junk. It was art.
A little digging on the net revealed the identities of the artists involved: Jonathon L. Beauchamp, the master designer, and Danny Hitchcock, who sculpted the face. You can see some of Jonathon’s carousel work in progress on his Flickr photostream here and here. It’s fascinating for me to see the master molds and read that the paint was applied to the inside of plastic, because the question “How was this done?” was foremost in my mind as I worked. If you have any interest at all in carousels be sure to look through his Carousels and Amusement Rides set and the Michael Jackson Carousel set. Yes, he designed the carousel formerly at Neverland, which also features this same Jester shield.
So I guess what I learned that day is that you can find good art anywhere, even on the Midway at the State Fair.
There’s a step-by-step demo of how this painting was made here.