Class paints ponies

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Nothing like a merry-go-round to help bring the community together. A recent addition to Heritage Park has community artists working around the clock.

Karel Cline, head of a local West Liberty painting class, has taken charge of adding the finishing touches to 12 carousel horses. She's part of a core group of four that has spent hours upon hours painting away.

"I kind of volunteered them for the job," she said. "But we were excited to do something that will be lasting in the community for a long time."

The Heritage Foundation recently purchased an old carousel that was active in the city of Muscatine more than 60 years ago along with other rides in Weed Park.

The main structure has been moved and set up in Heritage Park, near the one room schoolhouse and train caboose. However, it's currently horseless.

Enter Cline and her merry group of painters, a class that usually meets once a week to do acrylic paintings. Right now they're working vigorously to paint the horses.

"We've worked every morning this week," she said, paintbrush in hand. She's joined by Clare Palmer, Betty Zimmerman and Virginia Miehe, all prominent names in the West Liberty area.

Her class has around nine members, all of which have pitched in during the painting process. However, these four have been active nearly every morning.

Specifically, they're focusing on adding color to each horses' mane, tail and hooves. Each one is nearly four feet long, made of cast iron and incredibly heavy.

A base coat was originally applied on each one by Blake Lathrop, junior at West Liberty High School. Currently there are three black, three grey, three white, two brown and one pink horse.

But it's hard to see the base after the ladies have come in and added the features. They’re working in an oil based paint, which is a little trickier and less forgiving than the water based paint they've grown used to.

Cline's class has been meeting for more than four years, a product of the West Liberty Area Arts Council's winter art classes. They've gone rogue in a way, choosing to meet every week of the year instead of just four times in winter.

"They won't let me quit," added Cline. "We're almost like a family."

They estimate each horse takes about eight to ten hours to finish. The eyes are an especially difficult part of the process.

The group hopes to be done painting the horses before the weather turns cold. West Liberty's oddly cool summer has added a sense of urgency to the timeline.

The carousel was moved to West Liberty before last winter by Lyle Zimmerman, who spent the entire cold season of 2013/2014 welding it back together, horses and all.

In fact, Zimmerman is the reason the Heritage Foundation acquired the piece in the first place. He's deep into the world of tractor restoration. One day he was in Muscatine to purchase more tractor parts from a resident when the carousel caught his eye.

"I'd sold parts to this Muscatine man before, he called me up one day with more tractor stuff so I went to go buy it. Lo and behold, there sits the merry-go-around," he said.

Soon after Zimmerman purchased it for $3,000 and offered it to the Heritage Foundation. The foundation bought it from him and installed it during the summer.

Now that the structure and its horses have been welded, painted and primed it's up to Cline's class to bring the final part of the carousels restoration to order: its ponies.

They’re going to add quite a colorful splash to Heritage Park, which not only houses West Liberty's historic train depot but other pieces of Muscatine County history.

Of course, spending all that time with the horses has resulted in a connection between the painters and the painted.

"I've already named my horse, mine is named Penny," says Clare Palmer, hunched over as she adds a splash of color to its saddle.
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