It took artist Jane Walentas more than 25 years, but her masterpiece is finally complete. The artwork, a spectacularly restored 1922 carousel aptly named Jane's Carousel, just opened to the public last month in Brooklyn Bridge Park. For more than two decades, Walentas chipped away 60 years of "park paint" by hand to bring the carousel back to its original glory, revealing the original wood carvings and colors. The carousel, which is the only carousel to be placed on the National Registry of Historic Places, sits on the edge of the East River in a glimmering pavilion designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Jean Nouvel. We recently visited the carousel to experience its charm for ourselves and see the intricate details up close.
Built in 1922 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, the carousel was part of Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio. When the park shut down in the early ’80s, the carousel was destined to be dismantled and sold off in pieces at an auction in 1984. But Jane and her husband David, the developer of most of Dumbo and the Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park (the original park along the East River in Brooklyn, before Brooklyn Bridge Park was created), purchased the entire carousel from the auction.
The carousel was in sad shape when it arrived in Jane’s Dumbo studio. The artist did the necessary carpentry repairs and hand-scraped away 62 years of caked-on amusement park park to discover the true colors and shapes of the wood carvings. Every aspect of the design was photographed and recorded, then recreated in faithful detail. Everything, from the 48 horses’ highly decorative harnesses to the two chariots’ carved scenes, was repainted, and missing embellishments like jewels and small mirrors were replaced. The scenery panels, rounding boards, crests, center pole, and platform are all original to the carousel, each having been exquisitely restored by Jane.
To protect Jane’s work and to let the carousel be used year round, a pavilion was necessary. French architect Jean Nouvel was a natural choice for Jane and David Walentas, as they’ve worked with the architect for 11 years and have been instrumental in bringing his work stateside. Nouvel created a clear acrylic box (which we originally thought was glass) with a steel frame. Two of the pavilion’s sides open accordion-style, allowing for an open air experience. We visited on a brisker day, and inside the box was toasty warm, perfect for taking a spin.
Unlike glass, the acrylic slightly distorts reflections, adding to the whimsy of the ride. Mirrors on the ceiling cast reflections of the carousel itself, and a clear circular center in the roof lets you see through to the sky. Nouvel designed every aspect of the pavilion with careful consideration as to how it would related to the ride. At night, white shades are drawn over the sides, and the shadows of the horses are cast on them as if the whole structure was a glowing magic lantern.
“You have the dance of the horses in the middle of these two huge bridges,” said Nouvel to Art Info. “You can [see] that from the bridges, from the ledges, from the apartments so it becomes alive. It’s an alive little monument, very fragile in the middle of these very solid bridges.”
Until November 6, Jane’s Carousel is open every day except Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. During the winter (from November 6 to April 5), the carousel will be open Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s only $2 to ride, and all ages are welcome!
Images © Jessica Dailey for Inhabitat