Museum opening hours: Monday - Friday 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Carousel & Carnival

Experience all the fun of the fair at our Carnival & Cabaret exhibition and see our new carousel horse, courtesy of Dr. Pat Sager Lane. Pat will be talking about the fantasy art of British artist Josephine Wall during our Celebration weekend from September 20 – 22 and will tell the story of her galloper which she commissioned 20 years ago.

Carousel horses have been an attraction at fairgrounds in Britain and Europe since the late 18th century, developing from the jousting games of medieval times.The name is derived from Carosello, Italian for “little war.” Early carousel animals hung from chains and flew out due to centrifugal force. The circular platform carousel with horses suspended from fixed poles was developed in the mid-19th century. Originally, they were rotated by ponies until the advent of the steam engine.

Victorian engineer, Frederick Savage, developed Platform Gallopers with a system of steam-driven gears and offset cranks giving the horses their familiar up and down motion. Eventually electric motors and lights were added, and the horses pranced around to the accompaniment of fairground organs. The golden age of the wooden carousel horse in America was the early 20th century with many different styles of steeds and saddles, sometimes pulling chariots. It was risqué for Victorian ladies to mount a carousel horse and chaste ladies preferred riding in chariots so that their ankles were not exposed. The carved wooden horses for country fair carousels were plainer than the flamboyant Coney Island style with bejeweled trappings and gold leaf manes and tails. Carousels became breathtaking works of kinetic art.

The Wall Street crash and the Great Depression put an end to much frivolous entertainment. Of the two or three thousand carousels that spun around the USA only about 150 are believed to survive intact. During the 1930s in Britain, carousel horses inspired many artists, including Dame Laura Knight and Sir Alfred Munnings, who enjoyed visiting carnivals and fairs to find colorful subject-matter for their paintings. Personal nostalgia about merry-go-rounds from childhood led to a boom in collecting original carousel horses in the 1970s. Porcelain collectibles followed from companies such as Lenox. Royal Doulton artist Valerie Annand designed a collection of figurines with Victorian ladies riding carousel horses which were produced by The English Ladies Company. Federated Department Stores commissioned a carousel horse design for their Gold Buffet Royal Gallery range. Examples can be seen at WMODA courtesy of Pat Sager Lane.

Read about our Carnival & Cabaret exhibition