Capturing the art and stories of the carousel
By Maria Johnson • Photographs by Amy Freeman
You’d be hard pressed to come up with a project that’s any more “of, by and for” the city than the carousel that was donated to the Greensboro Science Center this past summer by the Rotary Club of Greensboro.
Open to the public under COVID-19 rules since August 26, the gleaming carousel and its cupola-topped roundhouse represent Greensboro in a way few local landmarks do.
On the face of it, the merry-go-round is a eye-popping menagerie of 57 handmade animals, half of which can be found in the science center’s zoo, aquarium and displays, plus eight bench-style chariots accessible to disabled riders.
But scratch the surface of the figures (joke, don’t), and you’ll find local stories galore, most of them linked to the business or personal lives of the donors who paid for them.
For example, Katherine and Mike Weaver underwrote a cosmetic horse bearing the constellation of Capricorn, the astrological sign under which their twin sons were born.
The family of the late Bob Cone bought a camel in memory of Cone, whom they lovingly joshed about walking like a camel.
Susan and Vic Cochran sponsored a gibbon because, as a science center volunteer, Susan once donned a furry shirt to comfort and bottle feed a baby gibbon that was rejected by its mother.
Life’s moments coming full circle.
The tiger was sponsored by John K. Snider. The science center is home to Sumatran tiger brothers Rocky and Jaggar, who came to Greensboro in January.
Spangled with LED lights and mirrors, the carousel is 46 feet wide and weighs 24 tons. It’s decorated with hand-painted “rounding boards” depicting key facets of Greensboro history. This photo shows World War II flying ace George Preddy Jr., a Greensboro native, and NASA astronaut and N.C. A&T graduate Ronald E. McNair. To learn about scenes on the outer and inner rounding boards, carousel visitors (after COVID) can use touch screens to read histories penned by legendary Greensboro reporter Jim Schlosser.
Most figures, including the bulldog mascot of N.C. A&T State University, were carved from blocks of laminated basswood. The bulldog — championed by Chancellor Harold Martin, a Rotarian — was carved from a single block. Figures with distinct heads, legs and tails are carved from different blocks that are joined before painting.
Greensboro resident and UNC alum Frank Brenner, who is also a part owner of the New York Yankees, picked up the tab for the school’s ram mascot with Carolina blue horns.
Recognize the typeface on Biscuit’s tag? That’s because Biscuitville restaurant owners Dina and Burney Jennings picked this horse. The carousel also includes a pig, courtesy of Tommy Neese and his sausage-making family, and a rhinoceros and a bee, as in the Roy and Vanessa Carroll’s Rhino Times newspaper and Bee Safe Storage units.
You’ll never catch a hummingbird being this still. Peggy and Lewis Ritchie sponsored the jewel-toned figure in honor of their families fondness for the bird.
Donors Barb and Tom Somerville signed up for the seahorse, which represents a resident of the science center’s aquarium, although the actual seahorse isn’t quite as …lavender.
At first blush, this appears to be your average pirate cat. But a wider lens would reveal-, and you’ll see it’s being chased by yellow lab. Joyce and Robert Shuman bought the cat; Joyce’s brother Freddy Robinson and his wife Susan covered the dog, a replica of their son’s pooch. The dog’s saddle is adorned with the names of Freddy and Susan’s grandchildren.
Recently retired N.C. State University athletic director Debbie Yow, a native of Gibsonville, lobbied for Tuffy, the school’s mascot, after speaking to the Greensboro Rotary and learning about the carousel project. Her late sister Kay, the famed Wolfpack women’s basketball coach, would love the “wolfie” hand gesture.