Peninsula carvers find their niche building special carousel

Posted: Monday, May 12, 2003

KENAI - A handful of woodcarvers here are helping keep the memories of fine-crafted carousels alive by making a brand-new carousel.

It will be open to everyone at Hansen's Custom Carving just outside Soldotna on the Sterling Highway.

Unlike carousels of the past, however, the unique peninsula attraction will feature things Alaskan: a caribou, a grizzly bear, a moose, a walrus and possibly a Dall sheep and a musk ox.

The idea was born when Steve Armet, a third-generation carousel-carver from Enterprise, Ore., put on a class in Anchorage for woodcarvers.

"We're members of the Last Frontier Woodcarving Club," said John Iverson of Soldotna, one of the four men now busily working on the Alaska carousel.

"We took Steve's class and decided to do the carousel here, but one with Alaska animals instead of the regular horses."

Iverson is working on the caribou; Bill Meyers, also of Soldotna, is making the bear; Scott Hanson of Sterling is carving the moose; and Scott Thompson of Anchorage is making the walrus.

Lifelike in every detail except size, each hooved animal also sports antlers that at one time belonged to the real thing.

Atop each animal is yet another Alaska animal serving as its saddle. The caribou carries a snowy owl, the moose a wolf, the grizzly bear a salmon, and the walrus an otter.

After the carving class in Anchorage in late March, the foursome began work on the individual animals. They anticipate putting in 200 to 300 hours per animal on carving and painting, Iverson said.

The process begins with beetle-kill spruce lumber in 2-by-6, 2-by-8 and 2-by-10 planks. The planks are roughly cut to the shape of the animal's torso, then laminated together and sanded to a smoothness befitting a child's mount.

Heads, legs and tail parts also are laminated onto the animal's body. But each protruding piece must be turned in the direction of the wood's grain, to give the part the strength to withstand years of being ridden, Iverson said.

"I spent about five 12-hour days roughing out the caribou," Iverson said. "Then I put about another 30 or 40 hours into the caribou sanding it and adding detail.

Once the animals are complete, Iverson will build the carousel structure, which will be powered by a 2-horsepower motor with a reduction gear and tire drive.

A fishing guide during the summer, Iverson said he'd like to have the animals finished and in place at Hanson's outdoor shop in time for tourists to see them. He anticipates having the carousel completed this fall or next spring, and said he and the other carvers would like to have local children paint them.

Would the group consider selling their creations?

"We would probably sell if the price was right. ... 10 grand minimum each," Iverson said.

"Nobody has anything like this. It's one of a kind, right now."

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