Rita Watson MPH

With Love and Gratitude

Folk Art Reveals Resilience

Today we can tangibly connect with our past while riding on a carousel.

Posted Sep 30, 2014

What started out as a course to learn about their new community in Chatham, Mass., has become a newly released coffee-table book of over 550 color plates. Folk Art of Cape Cod and the Islands - Schiffer Publishing.

Through her research, Carley became intrigued by early religious art done by a drifter who was said to have been disowned by a wealthy family. His simplicity of style showed somber images of the Virgin and Child, perhaps reflective of the faces he saw in his travels.

“We should remember that the people portrayed in the book often led tragic lives with frequent death at sea for men and often during childbirth for young women. Many of their children had a brief lifespan,” Carley said.  Heirloom quilts often revealed stories of family history.

Uplifting spirits on the Merry-Go-Round 

If colorful quilts of the era had any visual competition, it was in the form of fanciful hand-carved, hand-painted horses designed for merry-go-rounds.

“Opinions vary about whether carousel animals are actually folk art since many of these carvers had trained as wood sculpture apprentices and their animals were primarily made for commercial use,” says Carley. “Nonetheless, the lively Victorian-age carousel contributed to the roots of our national heritage aesthetically and culturally, whether in an amusement park or city park, a seashore resort, a circus, a country fair or traveling carnival.”

Crescent Park Carousel, Rhode Island

By the 1800s the tiny state of Rhode Island could boast of two prize carousels. While only about 275 of the more than 3,000 antique carousels still exist, “The Flying Horse Carousel” in Watch Hill is considered one of the oldest designed by Charles Dane. The one in Crescent Park was designed by Charles Looff in 1895.

Children and adults alike are mesmerized by merry-go-round magic. Even today we can tangibly connect with our past by hugging the stallions, listening to the organ, and feeling the wind against our faces. Riding the carousel, our ancestors were transported to moments bordering on a whirling spiritual high.  Sitting on a carousel today we come in touch with those who found laughter on the painted stallions despite their daily toil.

Copyright 2014 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved

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