Meadville Tribune

November 6, 2013

Carving bringing back to life carousel lion of bygone era

By George Nowack
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Editor’s note: Master Carver George Nowack, director of Red Barn Gallery & Studio at Conneaut Lake and Arts For Everyone, started a replica wood carving on Oct. 19 of the G.A. Dentzel Lion that was in Conneaut Lake Park’s carousel. Nowack hopes to unveil the carving by spring 2014. The following speaks to Nowack’s love for the lion and why he took on the wood-carving project.

I was luckier than most children while growing up. I had two completely separate worlds which I could call home.

First, there was the world of Pittsburgh’s “Gateway to the North Hills” community, Millvale, in which I was born and raised. This was the typical 1950s Germanic mill-town, in which everybody was related to one another either through birth or through marriage. Folks went shopping on Saturday mornings at all the local “mom and pop” stores, from butcher, to baker, and everything in-between — a true all-day affair, with heaps of conversations, laughter and good “old-fashioned” camaraderie.

On Millvale’s Lincoln Avenue, one could hop onto a streetcar and be transported through woods and fields to an adjacent community called West View.

Here it was that a legendary businessman named T.M. Harton chose to create in a valley setting a remarkable magical realm which, to this day, conjures the fondest memories of our lost American heritage. I am speaking of West View Amusement. Remembrances of riding the Racing Whippet, the Dips, Tumblebug and Harton’s amazing carousel are as vivid now as they were breathtaking then.

The message of Harton’s success traveled far and wide. It was not long before the directors and owners of Exposition Park in the northern community of Conneaut Lake approached Harton with a possible consignment. It was their wish that Harton construct and populate the proposed carousel for Conneaut Lake Park, as well as his having a hand in other proposed rides. Of course, we know that Harton accepted the offer.

The carousel building and mechanism designed for Conneaut Lake Park mirrors its long-gone twin at West View Park. To populate CLP’s carousel, Harton turned once again, as he had before, to the Germantown Carousel Factory of G.A. Dentzel. Here he found the proud and regal animals which originally graced the CLP machine. And among them, he found the “twin” for one of the most elegant menagerie animals to ever travel round upon any carousel — the Dentzel Lion.

As I said above, I was really fortunate as a child. In 1953, my folks decided to establish a second home; this one would be located near the shores of Pymatuning Lake in Crawford County. Traveling to this second home was not easy in those days — no Interstate 79, few paved roads in the immediate area, no big-box stores. Shopping occurred in the local market house, which was chock full of produce, baked goods, artisans, meats — and laughter and camaraderie. Heaven for sure!

For entertainment, we hopped into my dad’s turquoise and white 1953 Chevy and coursed our way through woods and across dirt roads to a magical place just a few miles away: Conneaut Lake Park.

Here I met and loved what seemed like a friend who had traveled all the way from down in West View just to be with me to protect me and around whose curly mane I could stretch my arms in a loving hug — my lion.

Now, more than a half-century has passed since those days. After decades of various habitations, from New York to New Jersey to Pittsburgh, home is, as it always was meant to be, the woodlands near Pymatuning Lake.

West View Park is gone, as is my childhood wooden feline companion. Its CLP counterpart is also lost into the mists of time. But Conneaut Lake Park still exists. Harton’s building is still there and in the same spot as in 1910. And, so is our beloved and precious Conneaut Lake Park, and fate stepped into my life back in 1991 and made me into a carver of carousel animals.

As anyone who knows me would agree: I believe that there is no such thing as “chance.”

A little over two years ago a “new” friend gave me a photo of her which was shot a number of years ago. There she was, repainting one of the remarkable Dentzel animals on the CLP carousel. The animal under her brush? You guessed it: my lion. The artist, Jan Patton-Werneth, had given to me a most precious gift!

So, all the needed variables were put into place: an image to use as a pattern, the means and ability to build the wooden pattern and then transform that pattern into the completed animal, the reason to celebrate, and the reason to create. What can I say? How could I possibly ignore this incredible opportunity?

Until recently, I hadn’t carved in several years; but, then again, fate stepped into my life and gave me the direction in the forms of my dear friend, John Rodgers and Kennywood Park, a former student from long ago, Jacob Minton and his wife, Liz, and daughter, Anna, the gentle insistence from Lenny Adams from Adams Amusements LLC, and the encouragement of my wife, Carolyn, and my fellow artists. How could I possibly ignore all of these “hints?” I sharpened my gouges and began to carve once again.

My wooden friend of my youth calls out to be found. I hear his strong voice speaking from the wooden planks ready to take shape. In the not too distant future, he will “roar” once again.