Historic, artistic carrousel animal exhibit is July 16 - Aug. 27

A stunning exhibition of historic, hand-carved carrousel animals that are both works of art and cultural icons will be shown at the Henry Madden Library from July 16 to Aug. 31, 2011. Forty-four horses and other animals, plus displays on carrousel history, construction and popular culture, will be featured in the second- and third-floor Peters ellipse spaces.

Note: The Fresno State exhibit will be open during Library hours, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays (beginning July 26), and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays (July 30, Aug. 6, 13, and 27). Admission is free. You do not need to book a tour in order to view the exhibition. You may view the exhibition during normal library hours of operation.

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 carrousel animals for 47 years.

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

Curator Tobin Fraley, an expert in carrousel 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 carrousel 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, some 2,500-3,000 carrousels were constructed throughout the U.S., with an average of 30 animals on each. But amusement parks were particularly prone to fire, and he estimates half of the carrousels 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 carrousels. The Freels animals are among the top quality carrousel pieces in the world, Fraley said.

Tour Information:

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.

The Freels Foundation

The FREELS FOUNDATION is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of the Arts with special emphasis on the Art of the American carrousel. In a three-fold program, the Foundations intent is to conduct research into the History of the carrousel industry and its carvers; to collect, preserve and restore significant figures representative of the variety of carving companies in existence in the period between 1880 and 1930 with special attention given to the carving companies of the Philadelphia style; and to lend its resources and talents to the production of educational exhibits, sharing, with an ever widening public, recognition of carrousel Carving as an Art Form.

  • College of Arts & Humanities
  • Henry Madden Library