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A stunning exhibition of historic, hand-carved carousel animals that are both works of art and cultural icons is coming to California State University, Fresno.

“Carousel Animals at Fresno State” will be shown at the Henry Madden Library from Saturday, July 16, to Aug. 31. Forty-four horses and other animals, plus displays on carousel history, construction and popular culture, will be featured in the second- and third-floor Peters ellipse spaces. Admission is free.

Animals for the Fresno State display are part of the collection of Larry Freels of Fresno, considered one of the world’s best.  Freels has been collecting carousel animals for 37 years.

The Fresno State presentation will delve into the history of the carousel, along with a glimpse into how the animals were crafted by hand, the influence of carousels on popular culture and a spotlight on master carver Daniel Muller.

Curator Tobin Fraley, an expert in carousel art and history who has written several books on the subject, calls these figures “functional pieces of fine art.”

“Several of the craftsmen who created these animals went way beyond what was necessary for constructing a seat on the ride,” Fraley said. “They were creating artwork. They were using carousel animals as a way to make a living but also as a canvas for their art.”

The exhibit pieces date from the late 1800s to around 1930. Fraley said that in that period, 2,500-3,000 carousels were constructed throughout the U.S., with an average of 30 animals on each. But amusement parks were prone to fire, and he estimates half of the carousels burned. Another 20 percent were abandoned, dumped or ruined by hurricanes and floods over time.

Today, perhaps 15,000 individual wooden figures remain in both private collections and on working carousels. The Freels animals are among the top quality carousel pieces in the world, Fraley said.

The Fresno State exhibit will be open during Library hours, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. July 16 and Aug. 13, both Saturdays.

Docent-led tours will be offered at 10 a.m. Monday-Friday, 2 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and by appointment. Tours can be booked with Kenlynn Nelson at or 559.278.8342.

More information, including a video interview with Fraley about the exhibit, a video on the history of carousel horses and a photo gallery are available here.

(Originally posted June 28, 2011 at 3:54 p.m.)

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