Color Planning for a Carousel: Part 1 – Collecting Color Information

Old Photo of an Illions Supreme Carousel

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.

Painted Illions Animals

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. 

Color Sample Areas on Illions Horse

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.

Detail Sample Areas

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.

Original Factory Design on Blanket

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.

Detail of Sample Area on Trim


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.

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Summer is Over


Summer is over and 80+ pints of canned tomatoes later along with various frozen packages of beans and field peas, my gardening is winding down.  The garden chores that are left involve preparation for winter.

I’m ready to get back to my blog and I thought I would start by briefly looking back over the work I accomplished this summer, along with my husband, Ron, on carousel animals and band organs. 

Ron with Watkins Park Horse

 We finished up and delivered a Mortier dance organ front to a private collector and we prepped two carousel animals for painting for another collector.  We completed 2 carousel horses for the Watkins Regional Park Carousel in Largo, Maryland, and they are safely back in service.  We traveled in June to Florida to apply gold leaf on a Limonaire band organ front for the Milhous Collection in preparation for the upcoming auction of the entire collection February 24 and 25, 2012.  Bob and Paul Milhous have amassed an amazing collection of band and dance organs, antique autos, tower clocks, a new carousel and more over the past 20 years.   The auction website is:

We just shipped a newly painted antique band organ figure to the Milhous Collection to complete the Limonaire.  Somewhere during the summer I did some paint touch up on an antique candle advertising display.  With the gardening, we had a busy but productive summer.

One of my current projects is doing color renderings of the carousel animals and parts and pieces of an Illions Supreme Carousel being restored by Brass Ring Entertainment in California.  Their website is  I have worked on several carousel restoration projects with Dan Horenberger, owner of Brass Ring and my job in these projects is color planning.  The end product is complete color information for the painters including a color palette, written instructions and a color rendering of each carousel animal and piece.  This kind of color planning insures that the finished carousel offers a rich, harmonious variety of colors and designs.  Good color planning is very important when there are several painters involved in a restoration project.

The usual routine for planning historically based color, or the colors and designs used by a particular carousel manufacturer, is to first collect as much color and design information directly off of the original paint layer of the animals and pieces as possible.  Many times animals and pieces have been stripped of all original paint some time in their past and in that case we look for color information that has been collected from a carousel made by the same manufacturer.  The second step is to organize the information into a usable form and the last steps are to plan the color and design and provide the painters, (whether it be me or others), with enough information to do the painting.  Every carousel has a different history and therefore presents different circumstances and needs.  The current Illions project is a bit different than usual because Pam Hessey and Lise Liepman who are extraordinary carousel animal painters, painted the outside row animals for a former owner over the past 20 years, and they will be the printers of the remaining inside rows of animals.  They chose the colors for the animals they have completed and since the paint jobs are amazing, they will not be changed.  Also, since Pam and Lise have designed the colors on animals up to this point, they will continue to design the animal color schemes when they paint the inside rows.  The color planning that is left for me will include the upper trim and the band organ facade and I will need to consider and incorporate the “Pam and Lise” colors in my color planning.

Design on Illions Supreme Carousel Horse

In my blog for the next few months, I will follow my role in this project from the color planning point of view with the addition of other possibilities and ways to handle color planning needs.  In thinking of this subject, I quickly realized that it will take several installments to cover all the aspects.  I will divide the writing into 4 parts.  Part 1 will include a description of collecting color information, Part 2 will describe how to organize the color information into a color palette once it is collected, Part 3 will cover the making of a carousel map and choosing colors and Part 4 will show the types of information developed for painters including color renderings of animals and pieces.   My goal is to publish a monthly installment over the next 4 months starting mid October with Part 1.

Meanwhile, check out Ron’s new website showing his fine arts painting.  Painting is his main goal in life and he is generous enough to help me with my work which in turn provides us both with a living.  He will be starting his blog very soon.

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Summer Break From Blog

I love my gardening so I’m taking a vacation from my blog for the summer to work in my garden in my spare time.  While I still work a full week on carousel animals, band organ fronts, etc., I work early mornings and late afternoons in the vegetable garden.  We just dug potatoes……yum!

I will continue my carousel/band organ blog in the fall. 

Happy gardening!                           Rosa

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Wurlitzer Style 153 Facade

Restored Wurlitzer Style 153 Facade

 This past month, with the help of my husband, Ron Rozzelle, I finished the restoration of a Wurlitzer Style 153 band organ facade for a private collector.  This is the third Wurlitzer facade that we have restored for him, the others being a Style 157 and a Style 165.  The goal on each was to make the facade look as much like it came from the factory as possible. 

The Wurlitzer Co. factory was located in N. Tonawanda, NY, and their traditional facade painting and decorating included a neutral colored base or background, landscape and seascape paintings on the raised panels, and blended color and metallic decoration on the scroll work.  I don’t have a date for this front but it most likely was made in the first quarter of the 20th century.  On the half dozen or so Wurlitzer facades that I have restored I have investigated and/or saved the original factory paint, and the metallic decoration on those have been gold bronzing powders, or various colored bronzing powders but never actual metallic leaf.  Sometimes I have found the land or seascape paintings intact and other times they are missing or barely there.  In the case of the Style 153 pictured above, the front had been completely stripped and badly repainted.  There were wonderful paintings on the front from an unknown date that were in great condition but although they are similar in style to Wurlitzer Co. paintings, I do not think they are the original paintings.  Additionally, there were small missing wooden parts, the scroll work and background was covered with thick white, pink, and gold paint, and there were large cracks opening up all over the piece.

I decided to keep and touch up the landscape paintings that were on the front because they were nicely painted in a style that matched traditional Wurlitzer Company style painting.  I also decided to use real gold leaf for the metallic decoration because of its durability, (bronzing powders can oxidize and turn black over time), and because these paintings needed the soft luminous quality that only gold leaf can give.  I thought that I could use gold leaf rather than powders and still retain the “Wurlitzer look”. 

First things, first: the dirty work which takes at least 2/3 of the time.  My investigation of the surface showed that this front had been stripped before of any original paint.  Instead of subjecting the piece to paint removers and stripping yet again, I simply sanded the surface carefully but heavily with 80 grit and 120 grit sandpaper to smoothe the surface and to remove any paint that was loose.  Next, all loose pieces were removed, glue was cleaned away and the pieces were re-attached. 


Cracks were carefully opened up, filled with West System Epoxy and filler, and carefully sanded level.  Areas where wood was missing were either filled with West Epoxy and shaped or in the case of larger pieces, replaced with carved basswood.

 The piece was spot primed and base coated with a commercial paint.  The paintings were cleaned with a proper solvent and pre-varnished with a reversible varnish which prepared them to be touched up.  The back was given a good sanding and a fresh coat of gray paint.

Now, the piece was ready for the painting and decorating.  Ron applied the gold leaf and I painted the scroll work, background, and touched up and varnished the panel paintings.  Tim Westman from New Hampshire will install the light sockets and wiring as well as swell shades and a new base to complete the facade, and he is currently restoring the mechanical parts of the organ before it is put together and installed in its permament home.

Because of its manageable size and the wonderful landscape paintings, this was a fun facade to restored.  Both Ron and I enjoyed having it here and after it was completed, we set it up in my studio to enjoy before it was shipped away.

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The Dirty Side of Restoration

Ron Rozzelle and Lisa Falstrom Working at Glen Echo Park Carousel

Restoring something as interesting as a carousel animal or a band organ front sounds a bit glamorous and wonderful, and it is, but you might be thinking only of the painting part.  The total time spent restoring a carousel animal or organ front usually involves only about 10% to 20% painting; that’s the fun part.  The other 80 % to 90% of the work is DIRTY, is not always fun, and is potentially toxic.  Usually there is old paint to be cleaned off the piece and that means the use of paint removers or other solvents.  If the piece being restored was made or painted in the USA before 1978, it most likely has lead paint on it.  (The Europeans removed lead from most commercial paints in the early 1900’s).  Even fumes from paints and varnishes can be toxic.  None of this stuff is good for adult human beings, and children are more susceptible, especially to lead.  Protective safety measures must be taken, and children as well as pets must always be kept out of the work area.

On my first project, the restoration of the Pullen Park Carousel in Raleigh, NC, I became aware of lead in old paint after a warning from my doctor and thanks to that warning, I began to protect myself early in my career.  In the late 1990’s I was required to attend a four day class in a “Lead School” for training in lead abatement so that I would be allowed to work on site on the carousel at Glen Echo Park in Maryland.  It was in this class that I learned that in the United States there were no effective laws governing lead use in commercial paints until 1978.  So, in the USA, any paint on any thing that was applied up until 1978 most likely contains lead.  That goes for carousels as well as houses and other items.  Also, lead is still legally used in some paints in all parts of the world.  Here in the USA some colors of my favorite brand of sign painter’s paints contained lead until formulas were changed several years ago.  Although Europe has lead laws, some colors of some British made artist oil paints available here in the USA still contain lead, and it my understanding that the use of paint with lead content is allowed in some historic houses in the USA and Great Britain.  If you sand or scrape paint that contains lead and make dust, you can ingest it and hurt yourself.  You can also spread toxic lead dust to other members of your family directly on your body or clothing.  Lead accumulates in the soft tissues of the body like the brain, and this accumulation over time does its damage causing brain and nerve damage and digestive, hearing and reproductive problems.

Rosa Patton In Full Protective Gear at Glen Echo Carousel

Methylene chloride paint removers are banned in some states but are still available here in my state of North Carolina.  You can take a whiff of this remover and KNOW that it is very dangerous to human beings.  You can read the warnings on the label and be sure of it.  Recently I have been using a non toxic paint remover called “Back To Nature Ultra Strip” for some stripping jobs, but I still have not completely given up the use of methylene chloride.  There are some projects where nothing else will work.  Alkyd and oil paints, mineral spirits, lacquer thinners and varnishes all carry cautionary labels warning of toxic fumes, cancer, and damage to the nervous system.

How do I protect myself?  I always work outside when I use methylene chloride paint remover.  I have a covered porch that is a perfect open air work space for 8 months out of the year.  I wear a protective Tyvek suit, a respirator approved for organic vapors and chemical resistant gloves.  For paints, varnishes and other solvents, I follow the safety directions on the warning labels. 

Sometimes I do a lot of dry scraping of old paint to expose original factory paint.  This makes a lot of dry dust that is certainly contaminated with lead.  Rather than work on my porch where I can’t control the dust, I work in an isolated room with the floor covered in 6 mil plastic.  For personal protection against the lead in this dust, I wear a Tyvek suit over my clothing, a protective hair net, a respirator approved for lead, and disposable surgical gloves.  I vacuum after every scraping session with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter approved for lead.  I leave my protective suit in the “dirty room”, wipe the bottoms of my shoes with a baby wipe, dispose of gloves, and wash my face and hands every time I leave the room.  I clean my mask and shower and wash my hair after a day of scraping.  I clean the room thoroughly, replace plastic on the floor periodically, and dispose of refuse according to the laws of my state.

Before starting any restoration project, you should know the facts about the materials you will be using and disturbing, especially about old lead paint.  You should read all labels and follow safety directions carefully.  Further safety information on all materials can be found on the Internet through search engines like Google.  I found several great articles on protecting yourself from old lead paint at:

and at:

I use these hazardous materials every day so I must be vigilant about protecting my health.  I think everybody should be aware of these safety concerns when doing any restoration that involves old paint, paint strippers, varnishes and solvents.  Even a painting project done by a contractor in (or outside) your older home should be done using environmentally responsible methods and with safety measures in place.  You do not want to contaminate your home with lead and expose yourself and your children to potential life long damage from toxic fumes or dust. 

My professional advice is to know the safety issues for the materials you are dealing with, protect yourself and your environment, and keep it clean! 

Partially Painted Mirror Frames at Glen Echo Carousel

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Bodie Island Lighthouse Restoration Project Needs Help

Ron Rozzelle at Bodie Island Lighthouse


My husband, Ron Rozzelle, and I were in Manteo and the NC Outer Banks the last of February, and while in search of good bird watching spots, we happened upon the Bodie Island Lighthouse area.  The lighthouse, as you can see by the scaffolding in the photo above, is being restored.  While talking with the exhibits attendant, we learned that during the current phase of the restoration, summer of 2010, the contractor discovered an unforeseen structural integrity problem that could not be ignored.  The project was federally funded and the new problem would add an estimated 1.6 million dollars to the project’s total cost.  Since the Federal Government is not easily handing out funds right now, this project is now at a standstill.  As I looked at this marvelous structure shrouded in scaffolding, the thought occurred to me that in this time of unpresedented worldwide humanitarian and environmental disasters, uncertain economic stability, and ongoing budget cuts, what is going to happen to our country’s national treasures – like a lighthouse that need repair?  It’s true that spending money on a lighthouse might seem  frivolous in this day and time, but do we just ignore this and other historic and cultural items and structures around the country until things get better?  As a lover of art and historic places and as a restorer of publically owned carousels, I wonder how many other cultural projects funded by federal, state or local governments have been recently abandoned or will be soon.

At Bodie Island the scaffolding must come down as the current contract terminates April 7th.  It will cost a major amount of money to put the scaffolding back up when and if money is ever available to finish the work, (re-scaffolding is not included in the 1.6 million).  The goal of the National Park Service, the federal agency who oversees the property, is to restore the Bodie Island Lighthouse to its former beauty and to open the lighthouse to the public to climb.  The lighthouse at Bodie Island does not get as much attention from visitors as the nearby Cape Hatteras Lighthouse but it is a beautiful spot and Ron and I thought the structure, even with its scaffolding, was wonderful.  It first operated in 1872 and is on the National Register of Historic Sites.  The links below will give more information.  The bird watching there was great too.  We saw Northern Pintail Ducks, Tundra Swans, American Avocets, Green-winged Teals, White Ibis, and many other species on the short boardwalk and the longer nature walk.

If you are inclined to help, send money and write your representatives and senators.  If you wish to help monetarily, the donation process for federally owned sites is not simple.  According to the park’s Public Affairs Specialist, Cyndy Holda, to make a donation for the Bodie Island Lighthouse at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, you must do the following:

Write and address a letter and send a check for any amount, $5 or more to:

Superintendent of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, 1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC 27954

Important:  State clearly in your letter that your donation is for the restoration of the Bodie Island Lighthouse.

According to the Public Affairs Specialist, this money will go into an account specifically for the Bodie Island Lighthouse Restoration Project.

For more information feel free to contact the park’s Public Affairs Speicalist, Cyndy Holda, at  or call her at 253-473-2111 ext. 148.

Information Links with more photos, specs and restoration info:

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How My Career in Restoration Got Started

In 1978 I volunteered to work on a Dentzel Co. carousel located in Pullen Park, Raleigh, NC.  My professional training was as an art teacher, I had worked for 6 years teaching art in public schools, and I was out of work due to a bond issue that was voted down.  The volunteer carousel job came with the stipulation that the original factory paint on the carousel should be conserved and saved.  That sounded impossible to me but I decided to give it a try.  Armed with a report that a professional conservator had completed on the carousel, I set about learning to remove many layers of “park paint”, (layers of paint that were haphazardly put on over the years by part maintenance staff), while saving the original layer.  I found that it was not only possible but  a good number of the animals had original paint and the upper trim had wonderful designs, landscapes and animal paintings, all original, all under many layers of old paint. 

Rosa Patton Working on Pullen Park Carousel Lion, 1978

The volunteer job grew into a paid position, I assembled a team of artists and restorers, and together we restored the Pullen Park Carousel and the Chavis Park Carousel which is also located in Raleigh. 

Rosa Patton Painting Pullen Park Carousel Animals, 1980

After the Pullen and Chavis projects my goal of saving  original paint has been repeated again and again over the years in work involving many whole carousels, individual carousel pieces, band organ fronts and even old decorative paint in historic houses.  Although I do a lot of work on pieces where the original paint has long been stripped away, I have found that finding and saving original factory paint is the task that gives me the greatest satisfaction.

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Rosa’s Carousel Blog

My name is Rosa Patton, (previously known as Rosa Ragan).  As a restorer of carousel and band organ fronts for the past 33 years, I always enjoy learning about new restoration techniques, new materials, and new projects.  I intend for this blog to give the reader access to the knowledge about restoration I have gained over the past years and I plan to learn some new things myself from your comments and input.

I will include posts about how I got started, projects I have done in the past, current projects, books, safety, and a bit about gardening and my life as a self employed person here in rural North Carolina.  I will do my best to post the first of each month.  I hope you enjoy my blog and I know I will enjoy sharing what I have learned.

Check out my website at

For March 1, “How My Career Got Started”

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