Carousel horses corral artist
Lansing resident, now a museum volunteer, recalls unusual work
Lansing resident Mary Ellen Walker had a lot to learn when she began painting carousel horses.
Walker used to get together with three of her friends to socialize and paint. She had taken art classes at Kansas City Kansas Community College and the Women's Community Y. But none of those classes involved painting horses.
"With the horses, I learned on them," she said.
Walker, who now volunteers at the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum in Leavenworth with her husband, Herb, recalled preparing the carousels there for display.
In 2001 or 2002, Walker said a friend from her church proposed that she and her art class friends help out with painting for the 1913 C.W. Parker Carousel, now housed in the museum.
Before the museum was built, volunteers were working at the First City Museum in Leavenworth. Walker and her friends painted the rounding boards for the C.W. Parker carousel, which go around the top of the structure. The old paintings were so faded that it was impossible to re-create the original pictures, Walker said, so she and the others painted area landmarks, including Parker's factory, which is now Tire Town.
Later, volunteers tracked down another Parker carousel - the Liberty, built in 1950 by Paul Parker, son of C.W. Parker. The Liberty was in bad shape when it was recovered, Walker said. About a dozen volunteers pulled it piece by piece out of a barn in Fort Scott, she said.
The Liberty was badly in need of repair and repainting, Walker said. Soon, she and her friends were repainting the horses in her basement in Lansing.
Walker said the horses ended up in her basement because the work area at the First City Museum was too crowded and cluttered. She preferred to work in the comfort of her own home, she said.
The Liberty's horses are aluminum. They required a base coat and then were painted in enamel, Walker said. Like the rounding boards on the other carousel, the original paint wasn't well preserved. Walker said she looked in books and calendars to see what the horses might have looked like, but she also took some liberties on the Liberty horses.
The first horse she painted is called "Angelfire."
"I learned it in a hurry," she said.
"Angelfire" is more traditional, but on other horses, Walker said she and her friends "did our own thing." She painted one to look like a zebra, and one has a Buffalo Bill motif. Walker also painted a horse of a different color - a purple horse with a Kansas State University theme. One of her friends painted a University of Kansas horse to counter it.
"You get started on it and you can't stop," she said. "It was fun."
The Liberty is a working carousel, and it made an appearance last year at Lansing DAZE.
"The little kids like this one, I think," she said.
The Liberty and the C.W. Parker carousels are on display at the museum, 320 S. Esplanade St., Leavenworth, which recently reopened after parts of the building were remodeled. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
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