It was Maude Drake who thought that the moon’s path shimmering down across Lake Michigan looked like silver — itself something memorable. But the crowds came for Silver Beach Amusement Park, founded in 1891 by her husband Logan and his business partner, Louis Wallace, below the bluff in St. Joseph.
Beyond a roller coaster, penny arcades, ice cream and other sugar-spun sweets of summer, visitors were drawn beginning in 1910 to the Silver Beach Carousel. The three-row, Coney Island-style machine was built by Fred Dolle of New Jersey, who oversaw its operation with M.D. Borelli, another carousel builder. But it was “Master Carver” Charles Carmel’s 44 hand-carved, life-like horses that made the whirring band organ attraction so magical, and over the years they became nothing less so.
In 1920 cutting-edge technology converted the carousel into a “jumping machine” and eight pairs of rising horses replaced 16 inner-row standers; four years later, Borelli and his wife spent several months adding their signature bejeweled touch to Carmel’s majestic mares and steeds, though many believed the artisan had already created “the most perfect carousel horse, a harmonious balance of gentleness and drama” (read more in “The Art of the Carousel” by Charlotte Dinger).
Even an inadvertent twist of fate only made the merry-go-round’s ponies more extraordinary: When the painter died midway during the carousel’s facelift in the 1940s, leaving the horses behind in their white primer, his replacement only infused fresh hues to the trappings and secondary carvings — a streamlined and iconic look later adopted by Walt Disney.
The Silver Beach Amusement Company closed in 1971 as times changed and the boardwalk disappeared beneath the sand. But fans of the carousel didn’t forget, and though Carmel’s original, sold-off horses couldn’t be reclaimed, citizens dedicated to returning their magic back to Silver Beach united to make it happen.
Today visitors to the Victorian-era port City of St. Joseph will find along this stretch of shoreline, that Parents magazine named one of the nation’s Top 10 Family Beaches, a much more eclectic menagerie of hand-carved creatures to ride. Commissioned by the Silver Beach Carousel Society, these artfully fashioned animals were custom-crafted by The Carousel Works in Ohio and include everything from a praying mantis, rooster, clown fish and raptor to horses decorated for Michigan universities, colleges and area high schools (as well as a Benton Harbor Tiger) and a wheelchair-accessible chariot.
Of course, artisans at The Carousel Works — the globe’s largest manufacturer of wooden carousels — also presented as ordered six replicas of Carmel’s original steeds, ensuring amidst 1,000 twinkling lights that this beach’s circle of enchantment remains timeless.
To learn more, visit silverbeachcarousel.com.
One of seemingly countless air fairs dotting Lake Michigan’s shoreline this summer, the Krasl Art Fair on the Bluff in downtown St. Joseph (now in its 51st year and drawing an estimated 70,000 attendees from across the Midwest) is one of the state’s top annual quintessential gatherings of both fine artisans and craftspeople. Whether art seekers are hunting for something one-of-a-kind to wear or to enhance their home, they can be sure the trove of treasures found at this July 14-15 event — from photography and paintings to fiber craft and clay creations — won’t disappoint.
“Over 200 artists from 900 applicants in many categories were selected in a competitive jurying process,” noted Stuart Gibson, artist and chair of 2-Dimensional Art at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art, as well as a professional juror for this year’s show. “I found the process extremely challenging, as the vast majority of artists and craftsmen were clearly exceptional in their fields.”
Kalamazoo-based custom jewelry designer Thomas Turner is one of them: Winner of Krasl Art Fair on the Bluff’s 2011 Best of Jewelry Precious Category, the inventive artisan’s creations have over three decades been featured in shows, galleries and private collections throughout the United States.
“Fairgoers (who come to this show) get a great multi-state example of some of the better works being produced around the country,” he said. “It’s great for artists to have this kind of wide, diverse audience, too.”
Exhibiting at the show comes with at least one other unparalleled perk.
“The location — on a bluff, overlooking Lake Michigan, the lake breeze, the smell — how can I say more about the location?” Turner reflected, adding that residing so near this “majestic” Great Lake has always profoundly impacted his own work. “It’s a subtle majestic though; it isn’t like the Rocky Mountains, quickly filling you with awe.
“Living near ‘the Lake’ grows to you — it grows on you, ultimately permeates you. That’s what the water and this area brings to me, to my sensibilities, and ultimately, that is what it brings to my work.”
To uncover and discover more artisans exhibiting at this year’s event along with directions to it, visit krasl.org.
— Elaine Keaton and Lisa M. Jensen