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Carousel's 'ponies' closing in on home of their own

| December 15, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Sandpoint’s “ponies” may be close to having a home of their own.

With the help and work of the community, Reno and Clay Hutchinson told the Sandpoint City Council that their Carousel of Smiles has made significant progress over the past few years and could be completed in a few years.

“Carousels are magic and have a power that brings people together,” Reno told the council of why she and her husband, along with a team of volunteers, have worked to restore the golden age carousel.

Reno grew up in the Butte, Mont., area and remembers the heartbreak when the community’s carousel in the historic park Columbian Gardens was lost in a fire. One of the first contributions of the “Copper kings,” Clay said the loss planted a desire in his wife to one day find and restore a carousel.

With Sandpoint now their home, Clay said that dream never changed — especially after they found a complete golden age carousel in a field in Kansas. And, he said, that dream is coming together due to the hard work of the community.

“It’s here in Sandpoint [that] we have all the ingredients we need for success with this project,” said Clay Hutchinson.

While initially at a loss on how to proceed after buying the circa-1920s Allan Herschell carousel, the couple said they connected with the National Carousel Association, an organization dedicated to restoring and preserving carousels.

With former NCA president Bette L. Largent’s help, the Hutchinsons said they got invaluable support and help on how to turn that dream into a reality.

“It’s from talking to her and other experts that we realized what you do with a carousel in this modern age,” Clay said. “You support your community’s economic lifestyle, find out what your community needs and work with that.”

With that in mind, Clay said the couple realized that “carousels need the synergy” created by a community. In 2016, when the city announced the need for a year-round activity as part of the City Beach master plan, the Hutchinsons realized they had the answer — installation of the Carousel of Smiles near City Beach.

“And good governance got the community involved,” Clay said.

Showing the council updated renderings of the design for the Carousel Pavilion Arts and Events Center, adopted as part of the Parks Master Plan in 2020, the Hutchinsons said the carousel will be the centerpiece.

With the help of various skill-based volunteers and countless hours, the carousel restoration began in 2018. From the “Gear and Grease Gang” to the “Godfather Squad” to the artists, each play a key role in the restoration.

“We have an amazing group of people who came out of the woodwork to help us assemble this thing and work with the mechanism,” Clay said.

Next came restoring the “original beauty and integrity” of the hand-carved wood horses, each 100 years old, Reno said. For this delicate work, the project has depended on a group comically named the Godfather Squad, due to the fact that the process of restoring requires the horses’ heads to be taken off.

From the beginning to the end, restoration of each horse takes more than 400 hours before they can be handed off to the artists to be painted, Clay Hutchinson said.

“The detailed painting is just exceptional,” Clay said.

Following a guideline of painting that lends to authenticity of the time era, the Hutchinsons said that each painter or group of painters has the opportunity to take ownership of their art with specific skills or strengths each has. Showing the council photos of the first 18 horses completed the work the painters have put in each and every detail, from the ornate decoration of the reigns to the colors used to make the eyes appear dynamic and life-like.

“We’ll be starting to show these off around town,” Clay said.

To further express the historical significance of the artwork and the carousel itself, Clay gave a brief history of the carousels from Allen Hershell and the unsung heroes who made this timeless piece recognizable and famous.

Later, through a series of meetings and public input, it was decided that the carousel would best serve the community at Sand Creek, giving access to both City Beach and downtown Sandpoint. Clay explains this was strongly encouraged during a March 2021 meeting with City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton and Kim Woodruff, former city parks director.

After careful consideration and ensuring the center could meet city codes, the official plan to move the pavilion from City Beach to Sand Creek gave way for the preliminary design plans to begin in July 2022.

Again showing what the design team had come with, Clay told the council that while the carousel will be the “highlight of the building,” if for any reason it had to move, it wouldn’t make a significant impact because the building is meant to be a multi-use complex.

However, with all the work that has been done, Clay said there are still some big conversations to be had about setbacks and parking that will develop as the master plan does.

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(Illustration courtesy CLAY and RENO HUTCHINSON)

An architect's rendition of what the Carousel Pavilion Arts and Events Center could look like once completed.

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(Daily Bee file photo/MARY MALONE)

The Carousel of Smiles is seen for the first time at an unveiling of the golden age carousel after it was unloaded from old trailers for the first time in more than 60 years in 2017.

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(Photo courtesy CLAY HUTCHISON)

Carousel of Smiles volunteers Gabe Gabel and Mary Day start on painting a pinto pony.

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(Photo courtesy CLAY HUTCHISON)

Carousel of Smiles volunteer Mike Boeck adds a missing piece to one of the carousel ponies during the restoration process.