Carousel horses get second life thanks to skilled volunteers

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PITTSFIELD — The unnamed carousel horse was on its death bed upon arrival at the Berkshire Carousel workshop.

The wooden equine was in 20 pieces and missing part of a rear leg.

"He was a mess. He didn't even have eyes when he arrived," said Edith LaSala of Pittsfield.

LaSala and several other workshop volunteers have put the horse back together again, carved a new leg, cleaned up the wooden figure, gave it a few coats of primer and a final sanding so it can be shipped back to its owner to be painted.

LaSala has become attached to her patient.

"He's such a cute fella," she said. "I hate to let this pony go."

The restoration and creation of wooden carousel horses is the latest go around for the dozens of the skilled and previously unskilled carvers, sanders and painters who crafted the Berkshire Carousel from the ground, up. After 12 years of planning and crafting the movable piece of artwork at the corner of Center and South Church streets, the privately funded merry-go-round opened July 4 weekend to thousands of riders of all ages.

Aside from ongoing maintenance of the amusement ride, the volunteers up the road in the Clock Tower Business Park, home of The Eagle, have been taking on outside work.

Open Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the workshop has been focused on money-making commissioned projects toward making the carousel and the workshop, self-sustaining, according to carousel director Maria Caccaviello.

"Our volunteers being admired for their skills gives me great joy," she said. "The workshop is the heart of the carousel."

Prior to Berkshire Carousel's debut six months ago, the workshop was already doing restoration work, primarily on carousel and non-carousel horses owned by private collectors.

"We were doing our job so well [with our carousel] that to have other people asking us to do work was an accomplishment," said long-time volunteer Charles Zawistowski of Pittsfield.

In recent months, Berkshire Carousel, the nonprofit, was commissioned to create two new wooden horses for the on-going carousel project in Butte, Mont. Volunteers are currently working on "Powder River" a bucking bronco following in the hoof steps of Cosmo. The workshop finished that horse last year to rave reviews from Butte.

"They liked the way the horse was done; it was above their expectations," said Joe Tournier, a 10-year veteran of the Berkshire Carousel.

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Berkshire Carousel's stable will soon go beyond horses. Volunteers are preparing to restore a wooden lion, flowing mane and all and carve from basswood a 7-foot giraffe. The commissioned piece is well underway, with the legs, neck, head and tail set to be chiseled in form then sanded, leaving the torso for last.

"One of the challenges is we have to make the body hollow to make it a lot more stable and we save on material," said Phil O'Rourke, a retired high school shop teacher.

The wooden replica of the long-necked mammal will be shaped, carousel style, complete with saddle and ornamentation when its finished this summer.

"The feet will look like they are moving like a horse, not a giraffe," O'Rourke said.

Meanwhile, other volunteers continue to improve upon their signature masterpiece by making necessary repairs to the Berkshire Carousel horses and enhance the amusement ride's amenities.

Evelyn Wilker-Pieloch has been working on painting domestic/wild animal designs on nine pews rescued from the former St. Theresa Parish in Pittsfield.

Wilker-Pieloch says her pew depicting red foxes in snow is one of the six elongated wooden seats in need of sponsors to help pay for their restoration.

Caccaviello praises the dedicated volunteers, many who've been involved when the first horses were being carved. She encourages those interested in joining what she calls the county's biggest community art project to enroll in carving classes; six consecutive Saturdays starting next month.

"It's my goal that everyone gets an opportunity to experience what we do at the carousel," she said.

Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233

If you go ...

What: Berkshire Carousel carving classes

When: 9-11 a.m. beginning Feb. 18 for six straight Saturdays.

Where: Clock Tower Business Park, South Church St., Pittsfield.

The $125 cost includes materials. To register send name, phone number and preferred email address to maria@berkshirecarousel.com


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