A Gem in Albany

Aug 15, 2017

Wood carver Mike Edson and Marcy
Credit Jacob Lewin

After fourteen years and the efforts of nearly 400 volunteers, downtown Albany unveils a gem today. An old-fashioned carousel opens to the public. Almost everything has been built by hand...and with a lot of love.

It starts with a slab of basswood, a rubber mallet and a gouge.  Carver Mike Edson has been working on this project for seven years:

"We have to use just hand tools. We can't use any power tools. No chainsaws. Using power tools sometimes you can get overly aggressive and make mistakes."

But it means a lot of patience and a lot of time:

"Each piece takes, at the minimum of carving, at least two years, per animal."

Edson figures he'll put in three thousand hours on a unicorn, from the hand-carved rings of the horn to the windswept tail, and a garland of carved tea roses.  All the animals are being made in-house and each has a name:

Albany's new downtown carousel
Credit Jacob Lewin

"This is Marcy. What we're trying to accomplish here with this unicorn of course derived from the horse anatomy, and the horse is all about muscle and tension and that's what we're trying to get at here and with the wind blowing. And as far as the saddle, this is a celtic mat.  It has an in and out weave on it."

Across the room, painter Sharon Galvin is working on a piece that will eventually get ten coats of paint:

"The fun part about it is, we do a base coat, three coats of primer, and then we have to stipple it and we use a special stipple brush, which is like a little pounding type of thing that we do, and it flattens the paint out, it makes it really look nice."

Volunteer Jack Duncan says the carousel has athe traditional three rows of animals. 30 have been installed and eventually there will be 52.  They include horses, elephants, tigers, a frog, a quail and....a nod to the Northwest...a salmon:

"Yes, yes....chinook!"

The carousel is aimed at being a big part of downtown Albany's revitalization.   Businessses have showcased the animals in their windows.  Tamalyn Hult at The Natty Dresser says it should be a boost for a downtown that's on its way back:

"I think it's going to bring people from all over the country."

The 1909 vintage infrastructure--last used on a boardwalk in Point Pleasant, New Jersey--has been restored from the wooden gear teeth to the mirror panels, and even a new Wurlitzer band organ has been built.

Wurlitzer band organ at the Albany carousel
Credit Jacob Lewin