Head south on Vine Street, and you’ll walk right into the latest addition to the city’s riverfront parks: Carol Ann’s Carousel, a feat of 32 custom-commissioned paintings, 44 hand-crafted wooden figures to (merrily) ride upon, lights, and more, all encased in a brand new glass structure.
The 42 creature characters (Zoo babies elephant! A horse in lederhosen!) and two “chariots” (a steamboat and a Corvette) each depict some event, scene, or much-loved aspect of Cincinnati’s cultural milieu, and were carved from wood and painted by Carousel Works in Mansfield, Ohio. Some of the carousel was pre-assembled in Mansfield, and they brought it down and put it together like the big, complex puzzle that it is.
Local artist Jonathan Queen got the gig to create the painted panels—16 on the outer cresting, 16 that surround the center mechanics—which he’s been working on since 2013. He often paints narrative scenes of toys, and in these outer panels, toy-like animals inhabit more realistic scenes from various Cincinnati parks. “They wanted to honor the parks. It was my idea to add the animals. Instead of making them naturalistic, I thought doing something that was more animated and fun would give another level, another layer, to the paintings,” Queen says. He spent that first summer taking photos and figuring out scenes (each painting is compiled from some 30–50 photos). From there, he sculpted animals in clay, lit them to suit the lighting of the scene, merged and colorized them in Photoshop, and only then, with this reference piece, was he able to start the actual painting.
So does he have a favorite? “That’s like asking my which one of my kids is my favorite,” he laughs. “I love [the] Washington Park [panel]. There are three animals interacting, and I really liked the way that the stylization, the mood came out. Also Mt. Storm—it’s a dusk scene with a raccoon family coming out, and there are lightning bugs that the kids are chasing. With a lot of these, I was thinking about what I do at a park, what my family does at a park, or when I was taking photos of the scenes I would see—when I was in Hyde Park Square there was a dad standing there with two ice creams and this kid was splashing in the water, and I was like, That’s perfect, that’s what happens when you go to Hyde Park Square.”
An ArtWorks team contributed work to the inner panels, which depict landmarks past and present (Carew Tower, Miami Erie Canal, Crosley Field, and so on), which were painted on stretched canvas and affixed to the arc board in Mansfield.
After two years of work, this was the first time Queen saw it all come together: “It looks great seeing it installed,” he said. “Because this was all theoretical until about a half hour ago. And it worked.” We thoroughly agree.
Carol Ann’s Carousel opens to the public May 16 at 11 a.m.; Smale Riverfront Park, W. Mehring Way, downtown, cincinnatiparks.org