Original factory painting techniques and original color on carousels and carousel animals vary from company to company. Each company had a unique set of colors they used again and again, and company painters painted in the same style and had unique ways of further decorating animals and trim, such as pin striping, painted designs and metallic finishes. Also, some carousel companies were located in the same geographic area, such as the Philadelphia Tobaggan Company and the Dentzel Company which were located on the same street in Germantown, PA. Those companies in close proximity to each other possibly shared painters, (as well as carvers). The result is that each company (or area) has a distinct color palette and painting style, and I have been interested throughout my career to find and note these distinctions. Whenever possible, even on a single animal, I like to document the original painting and designs before proceeding on a restoration project.
A color planning project for the restoration of a carousel might begin with a direct exploration of the paint layers on each animal and piece. For my current project on an Illions Supreme carousel, manufactured in 1927 by the Illions Company of New York, I flew to Los Angeles from my North Carolina home in September 2010, to do just that. Working in the workshop of the managing restorer of the Illions, Dan Horenberger, who owns Brass Ring Entertainment, I met up with the animal painters for the project, Pam Hessey and Lise Liepman. Over the past 25 years or so Pam and Lise have completed the painting of the entire outside row of animals on this carousel. They chose the colors for individual animals each time they painted one. In 1986 I did some exploratory color work on the original layer of several of the un-restored animals of the inside row. Pam also restored to original paint a small inside row animal some years ago.
Armed with the results of my 1986 work and photocopies of Dan’s recent documentary photos of each animal, my goal for the 2010 Los Angeles meeting was to document the colors that Pam and Lise used and to discovered and document the original factory colors and designs on the remaining inside row un-restored animals.
Pam and Lise graciously agreed to document the colors they used which freed me up to spend all of my 3 days on the un-restored inside row animals. While Pam and Lise did their work, I began mine by methodically cleaning 10 to 20 sample areas to the original paint on each animal. As is typical of many antique carousel figures, especially on a working carousel, layer after layer of paint had been applied over the years to the animals leaving no clue on the surface of what the original factory paint job might have looked like. By cleaning sample areas I was hopeful that something of the original paint might be left for observation and learning underneath the re-paintings. I quickly found that there was plenty of color information left on the original layer. That means that these animals were never stripped to bare wood as is sometimes the case. I cleaned “windows” through the many layers of park paint to expose areas of the original paint and/or design applied in the Illions factory. After suiting up with gear appropriate for protection against old lead paints, I began cleaning using an Exacto knife and a #22 Exacto blade, sometimes using a little heat from a hair dryer or a heat gun. (NOTE: Dealing with old paint applied before 1978 in the USA involves disturbing lead paint, so please read my blog entry, “The Dirty Side of Restoration”, published 2011/04/04, about safety when disturbing old paint.) For this project sample areas varied in size and I made sample areas only big enough to identify color unless I noticed a painted design or shading. If I noticed a design, I cleaned enough area to completely expose it. If I saw shading like dark blue to light blue, for example, I cleaned a strip sample to show the variation.
After I had cleaned as many sample areas as I felt was needed, the next task was to document the found colors in an organized way for use later. Each animal was given a temporary number for my purposes. Since I had a relatively small number of sample areas on the current Illions project, each sample area on each animal was given a simple number designation. (On other projects where I have 40 to 50 sample areas, I divide the sample areas into groups corresponding to the design component from which they came. For example, all of the sample areas on the saddle might be given the letter designation “C” and bridle samples the letter “B”, etc. In a larger project, if there is more than one sample area on the saddle or in the “C” designation, these would numbered from 1 upward, for example C-1, C-2, etc.) In the Illions project, these sample area numbers were written on a card and temporarily attached to the animal for photographs and notations. I photographed each animal with an overall shot and with several close up shots to illustrate found colors and designs. Special attention was paid to being sure that every sample area was represented in the set of photos and that the animal number was included in each shot for later identification.
All colors were matched to color swatches from the Munsell Book of Color Glossy Finish Collection. (For those of you not familiar with this color system, it is a universally accepted system for matching and recording color and is many times used to notate historic color.) I used the photocopies of Dan’s documentary photos on which to record the color numbers as well as sample area numbers.
After finding and recording color on the animals I cleaned sample areas and recorded original color on the pieces of the carousel upper trim; rounding boards, shields, mirror frames, etc. Again, I numbered sample areas, took photos, and made written color notations.
By the time I left the work site, I had collected a decent amount of color information to take back to my studio for processing. Pam organized the colors that she and Lise collected into a usable list of Munsell notations and sent it to my studio via e-mail. I was now ready to organize all of the colors including the original and the Pam & Lise colors into a color palette and guide for painting the rest of the animals and pieces.
Next time: Part 2 – Organizing Colors and Making a Color Palette.