Meet the artists who keep Seabreeze's painted ponies looking polished 

click to enlarge Wearing a head lamp, Gaylon Arnold leans in to paint the gold trim on a saddle on a carousel horse.
  • Gaylon Arnold, a furniture conservator, repaints the gold trim on a carousel horse's saddle.
Long before Seabreeze Amusement Park opens each season and welcomes a new chorus of children’s delighted squeals and carnival tunes, a lot of work goes on behind its gates.

For months, artists work hard to repair last season’s superficial damage to the rides. The bulk of this year’s focus before Saturday’s opening has been on the park’s carousel, which is in a shelter right next to Seabreeze’s guest services building.

“It takes a few months for us to clean it, paint it, get the whole building ready for the guests to enjoy,” said Genevieve Norris-Brown, general manager at the Irondequoit park. "We're excited to open up our doors for more memories for the generations in Rochester to enjoy.”

Artists Gaylon Arnold, 75, and Ann McCracken, 67, were tapped six years ago to buff out the scuffs, sand down chips and dings, and repaint the rides. Together and separately, they’ve worked to restore the teacup and turkey rides, the whack-a-mole game, and other wood-and-paint fixtures at the park.

“It's the coolest job in the world,” McCracken said. “I just like telling people I don't even know that this is what I do. Because everybody gets all teary-eyed about the carousel.”
click to enlarge A woman smiles, leaning against the bars around a carousel.
  • Ann McCracken, sign painter, takes a break from the Seabreeze carousel renovation work.
McCracken is a sign painter who also has a studio art practice, and Arnold is a photographer and furniture conservator who had worked for the Norris family previously, repairing furniture in their offices and homes.

“When they needed somebody to start working on this, they knew who to call,” Arnold said. "And they were able to find Ann, who's great with signs, and I'm great with colors. Between the two of us, we’re able to cover what needs to be done here.”

The current carousel is 27 years old. It’s a 1996 re-creation of the park’s original, 90-year-old carousel that was destroyed when a fire ravaged the grounds two years earlier.

Norris-Brown is a descendent of the Long family, one of the first manufacturers of carousels in the United States, which built Seabreeze’s original carousel, PTC No. 36. The family has operated Seabreeze since 1904.

The new carousel, named Seabreeze No.1, was also created by the Norris family, following the traditions of their predecessors.

Despite being a newer ride, it still requires repairs and upkeep.

“Every year the kids actually ride on these things,” Arnold said. “And they wear the paint off in places like the stirrups, the handles, the horses’ manes — for some reason, they love to caress them, the manes. So, our job is to replace that missing paint. But as we're going along, we're doing restoration.”

Oils and sweat from little arms and legs softens the paint and discolors it.

"What used to be red was turning brown over the years,” Arnold said. “So, we're going back and removing the old paint that's unnecessary and replacing it with the good stuff.”

“The good stuff” is a brand of luminous oil-based pigments called Japan paint, which Arnold and McCracken have painstakingly mixed to match to the ride’s original colors and repainted its saddles, manes, pinstripes, and patterns.
click to enlarge PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
“The whole thing is a work of art,” Arnold said. “It's not just the horses, there’s original paintings all over the carousel, and on the face of the organ. All the paintings around the crown are of local interest, things like Niagara Falls, the beach, the stars, all kinds of things that you can do around here. So it's very local, and gorgeous.”

It’s an unorthodox studio, and the artists needed something like sea legs to work on the carousel’s suspended deck.

“Sometimes we’re on opposite sides, and I have to watch I don’t shake her paintbrush while I’m walking,” Arnold said.

And while it’s important to stay true to the original work, there’s room for a little artistic license, too.

“Our rule is, whatever color we come up with, let's make it a little brighter than it used to be,” Arnold said. “So things are just a little snappier, a little bit more festive, but we come close to it.”

Rebecca Rafferty is an arts writer for CITY. She can be reached at [email protected].
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