The long-awaited, volunteer-driven Berkshire Carousel is about six months away from opening to thousands of amusement riders each year.
Organizers on Wednesday announced they expect the carousel to take its first spin within the Berkshire Mall on July 1, more than seven years after the privately funded community project was conceived.
Director Maria Caccaviello said that dozens of people are in the home stretch toward completing the 39 wooden horses, one donkey, two chariots and the other hand-carved, colorful wood adornments. Once a refurbished 85-year-old frame for the carousel arrives from Ohio, assembling the amusement ride at the mall should begin in March, said Caccaviello.
"It is definitely an artistic production as much as it is an amusement ride," said Arthur Rosen.
Rosen is one of the 300 volunteers during the past five years who have worked to bring the carousel to life.
"Each one of us has had a hand doing some portion of a horse -- carving, sanding or painting," said volunteer Ralph Lichtenstein.
Lichtenstein and Rosen have succeeded Walt Ruess in overseeing the carving, sanding and painting of the horses and other wooden creations. Caccaviello said Ruess' contract as the master carver for the carousel expired Dec. 1 and he's returned home to Ohio.
Nevertheless, Ruess has left a lasting impression on the volunteers -- many of whom had little or no wood-carving experience, like Joe Tournier of Pittsfield.
"Walt had a good technique of bringing out the hidden knowledge and talent in you," said Tournier, a retired insurance agent.
The Berkshire Carousel is the brainchild of Pittsfield native Jim Shulman and his wife, Jackie. The Galena, Ohio, couple co-founded the project in late 2005 in an effort to help revitalize Pittsfield downtown. Studies had shown carousels in communities the size of Pittsfield annually attract up to 250,000 visitors.
Jim Shulman subsequently purchased a vacant lot at the corner of Church and Center streets next to the CVS pharmacy for the carousel's future home. However, the estimated $1.5 million needed to prepare the site and build an enclosed exhibit hall for the carousel has, so far, proved to be cost prohibitive, according to organizers. The carousel itself has a price tag of $1 million.
In October, carousel officials announced the largest moving-art project in Massachusetts would be housed at the Berkshire Mall. Since March 2011, the shopping complex has hosted the carousel's workshop in one of its vacant stores.
Once operational, the carousel will consist of 32 horses, a donkey, and two chariots -- one of which will be handicap accessible. The other seven horses will be rotated in to replace those that require regular maintenance or repair.
In addition, the carousel will have 14 outer running boards painted with scenery inspired by the Berkshires. Another 14 boards will be portraits of the families that contributed the most during the carousel's creation, be it with funding or housing some construction before the mall space became available.
Organizers say donations are still needed to pay for some of the panels and the carousel's mechanism.
Caccaviello noted how contributions have come from all over the county and beyond, making the carousel a truly community project, especially among the volunteers.
"We have a great group of people who work well together," she said. "We're like family."
She added that many of the volunteers will stay on with the project to operate the carousel and help with its upkeep.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.