When Summit the Burro was mounted on the Albany Carousel, it marked the culmination of a project 17 years in the making. In 2003, Gail Johnston and her husband Bob responded to a newspaper ad calling for volunteers for a project that was more aspiration than actuality at that point. The dream? The community of Albany, Oregon, would create a hand-carved carousel from scratch.
Building a carousel from scratch is a labor of love—and time. Proving that anything is possible, 200,000 volunteer hours and 14 years later, the Historic Carousel & Museum of Albany came to fruition. On opening day in July 2017, 30 colorful animals including Fredrick the Bear, Hope the Giraffe and Kitty the Unicorn danced around the donated antique carousel mechanism, to the delight of a steady stream of visitors of all ages.
In the basement studio of the carousel, volunteers laboriously carved each animal in a process that took, on average, five to seven years. Summit the Burro was sponsored and carved by Gail Johnston.
“We chose to sponsor Summit because we winter in Arizona, and there are wild burros there,” explains Johnston, who selected the burro in 2005 and began work shortly thereafter. The name Summit came from Summit Lake, a place Gail’s family has camped since the 1950s. An artist drew early sketches of each animal, but sponsors were encouraged to choose personal touches for the final design.
Johnston says, “We chose a camping scene to be painted on his saddle, with a canoe on a beach, a fire and a jumping fish in the lake.
”In the beginning, Johnston had no carving experience. Classes, practice and a “lots of help” brought Summit together. Master Carver Jack Giles, who has also been with the carousel project since its early days, explains that the process involves plenty of teamwork. The animal begins as rough cuts of bass wood (from the linden tree). Life size drawings are hung to guide the carving, which typically is done by four or five carvers over approximately 2,000 hours. After the animal is carved and assembled, each is sent upstairs to be painted—a process that takes over a year and culminates with several layers of automotive clear coat.
Both the carving and paintings studios are open to the public, and part of the fun for the visitor—and the volunteer—is the excitement of seeing such an amazing endeavor in the works.
“Families come year after year to see our progress,” says Giles. “I love to see the smiles on kids’ faces, and grownups too. It’s such a cool community project. I didn’t realize this when we started, but we’re creating history.
”The Historic Carousel & Museum of Albany is open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., including most holidays. For more information, visit albanycarousel.com. To plan your stay in Albany, go to albanyvisitors.com.