Pa. artists shares the joy of carving carousel horses

February 19, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - As a child, Ami Plessinger was fascinated by carousels.

She was also artistically inclined, but those two passions didn't come together until she visited an amusement park in Denver two years ago.

"There was a carousel with wooden horses, and on the shield was Philadelphia Toboggan Co. No one there knew anything about it," she said.

Plessinger did some research and discovered it was one of the few remaining numbered Philadelphia Toboggan Co. carousels with all the original horses.


Back home in St. Thomas, Pa., she went to the bookstore and got Carousel Animal Carving, bought some poplar wood, and "It's taken on its own life," she said.

Plessinger, 53, shared her knowledge of carousel horses at the meeting of the Waynesboro Studio Club at the Oller House on Main Street on Tuesday evening. She brought two of her works-in-progress with her.

Carousel horses are made in various styles such as Philadelphia, Coney Island and farmyard, she said, and in an array of poses such as standers, jumpers and stargazers. Some have natural tails; others have wooden tails.

Plessinger is largely self-taught, and works in a variety of mediums including oil on canvas and pen and ink. The carousel horses are her first attempt at wood carving.

A carousel horse is created in stages, Plessinger said, with the head made first, then the tail, legs and the body, which is hollow.

"The tail comes right after the head, so the mane and tail have the same styling," she said.

Pieces are cut with a band saw and held together with glue and dowel pins.

She carves with a rubber mallet and chisel and uses a right angle drill with a chain saw bit.

"That gets rid of excess wood quickly," she said.

Mistakes can be filled in with wood putty and potter's clay.

"Wood is very forgiving," she said, adding that her favorite tool is a dremel tool, with which she makes fine lines for detail. All the pieces are hand-sanded.

Plessinger's daughter's horse, Buttercup, has been a big help in the project, she said.

"Carousel horses traditionally have a flat, button eye. But Buttercup's eye didn't look like that," she said.

She went to a local taxidermist and got the eyes he uses for deer mounts.

"It really came alive when I put the eyes in," she said.

When she cupped the carousel horse's chin in her hand, she noticed it didn't feel like Buttercup's, so she kept changing and comparing.

"I'm still not satisfied with it," she said. "I want mine to have sweet faces. Some don't."

Her first horse will be a Christmas horse; the other is a military horse.

Plessinger teaches art appreciation as a volunteer in the Tuscarora Area School District. Her work can be seen at the Mansion House Art Gallery in Hagerstown City Park, The Olde Jewelry Ship in Greencastle, Pa., and at Art at the Mill in Millwood, Va.

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