Labor of love for Berkshire Carousel volunteers

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Photo Gallery | Berkshire Carousel Grand Opening

PITTSFIELD — You got a leg to start on.

A good showing there earned you a pass to try your hand on the less-involved "novice" side — the one that would face inward, not toward onlookers.

Showing skill and promise there, you graduated to the "romance side," the intricately embellished veneer, to face outward toward the smiling, awe-struck faces that would some day gather to watch the massive Berkshire Carousel, as it turned.

Proven romance-side workers finally took their mallets and chisels to the crown jewel of every horse: the head.

Ken Dodds, an amateur woodworker, followed this precise educational track, and he watched many others do the same during the 10-year building process, culminating in the carousel's grand opening at its permanent home Friday, which hundreds attended.

"Some of these people had never picked up a chisel in their life," Dodds marveled.

Dodds ended up working on two horses' heads, he said proudly. The project's master carver, Ohio resident Walt Ruess, taught many of the volunteers the skill, and oversaw the carving, sanding and painting of the horses and other wooden creations.

Other volunteers honed their expertise in other key areas. For instance, Teri Davis, a Hinsdale resident, was perhaps the carousel's most prodigious painter.

A novice to start, Davis eventually painted as many as 10 of the 33 horses and almost all of the inner carousel paintings, and spoke of her story in a lyrical way.

"For me, it was coming around full circle," Davis said. "One of my first memories in life was looking at the paintings on the Holyoke carousel as I went around and around as a little girl. I never wanted to get off. It made me want to become a painter. Now, [Berkshire Carousel] can be an inspiration to other kids, who will notice my artwork and be inspired."

Each horse took layers of enamel or oil paint, then five coats of clear spar varnish, Davis said.

Former Lenox woodshop teacher Phil O'Rourke focused his work on still another area — hollowing out the interior of the horses and gluing their individual pieces together.

"They refer to it as a 'coffin,'" O'Rourke said. "You just build it like an empty box."

He added, "It's just so exciting to see it all put together. I have a lot of pictures of my grandkids riding."

Davis' husband, Morgan, a union carpenter, didn't touch the horses at all, but still played a key part.

He, Charlie Zawistowski, Doug Cowan and Bruce Goguen built the copper-topped cupola with Frank Ringwood, creating and installing seven panes of stained glass and a vented eighth side to properly air out the building.

Dedicated to the very last, Morgan Davis worked right up until the night before Friday's celebration, which he spent building a ramp to the property's gift shop.

In all, more than 400 volunteers took part in bringing the carousel to life, including engineers, woodworkers, carpenters, graphic designers, shop teachers, sculptors, electricians, professional artists and many more.

And some of them plan to continue to work together. Dodds said the group recently sent two finished horses to another group working on a similar carousel in Montana, and Berkshire Carousel will continue to operate in a shop space in the Clock Tower building on South Church Street.

They hope to complete two more project phases. Phase 2 is a full concession with an old fashioned soda fountain and an education department for all ages. Phase 3 is an exhibit hall, which will house the thousands of pieces of Pittsfield memorabilia along with the first motorized fire truck.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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