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'The history of America is on the side of a carousel' - Local artist keeps tradition alive

A local artist works to keep carousel carving tradition alive. (Image: WTVC)

People of all ages have been riding carousels for centuries.

We met the local artist who owns one of the only carousel carving schools in the country.

Larry Ridge owns Horsin' Around in Soddy Daisy.

You can see the goat named Sir William that he carved at the Coolidge Park carousel.

"You see the twinkle in their eye that they're enjoying the ride, and they're having a memory built that they can take back with them," Ridge said.

Larry's been carving wood most of his life. He picked up carousel carving a few decades ago.

"It's a hobby, it's a vocation, it's a love," Ridge said. "You get involved in them and you just keep wanting to do more and more, and you learn more and more about how they're done."

He makes his own animals, plus restores worn out ones, some dating back to the 1800's.

"You can see the history, the history of America, it's on the side of a carousel."

While restoring the animals, Larry tries to copy what the original artist did.

"If you'll look right in here there's a little scooped area there, and there's a chisel that fits that perfectly and that's what he would have used," Ridge said as he showed us how he works on restoring the animals.

Tradition is important in this shop, and there are definitely no shortcuts.

"It's a skill that was developed over a hundred years and we don't want to lose it in one generation, and that's what we are facing right now."

Larry sticks to the same tools people have used for centuries.

"So without bringing newer people in, showing them the techniques and the tools and how they did things in the old days, it's going to be lost in a generation."

There are 75 to 100 pieces of wood in each animal. The pieces are carved into designs, and then glued together. After that, they're painted with acrylics.

People like Katherine Scott come to the shop to learn the techniques, and eventually create their own unique pieces.

"It's just a fun place to be, fun to do and you have something when you get through."

The work doesn't stop once the animals are in operation.

Last year there were more than 150,000 riders at the Coolidge Park Carousel.

After so many rides, some of the animals need to be repaired.

We caught up with Scott Morgan from the city's maintenance department as he helped to install a dog on the carousel, taking the place of a seahorse while Larry repairs it.

"His knowledge is invaluable," Morgan said. "To us it really is, there is nobody in town that has the expertise to do this since he's so familiar with all of them."

400 hours of work went into making Sir William.

Larry's hoping the tradition and enjoyment last well beyond our time.

"Hopefully a hundred years from now this thing will still be here and my great great grandkids can come up and take a look at it and see that I did this years ago."

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