A cobalt blue dragon named Yun Hsiang is the latest addition to the Albany Historic Carousel & Museum's menagerie. The sculpture, sponsored by longtime carousel benefactors David and Cecilia Gore, was installed on Saturday.
It took more than eight years to carve, two years to paint and its installation planned for last year was put on hold thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. All told, it’s been more than 13 years from the time the sculpture was envisioned to the time it was hammered into place last weekend.
It seemed almost like an understatement when carousel executive director Peggy Burris said, “This has been a long time coming.”
Yun Hsiang is the 37th animal to be installed on the historic carousel, and volunteers and staffers had a bit of prep work to do on Saturday before the dragon could take his place on the inner track of the platform. Holes had to be measured and screwed into the brass pole, and it took some careful finagling to get the tall creature upright — without breaking any of the numerous glass light bulbs that dot the carousel structure; or, heaven forbid, damaging one of his new neighbors on the carousel track.
Once the sculpture was upright, volunteers stacked wooden blocks below the stirrups and then Rick Barnett, a local who’s helped with several installations, got up on a ladder to screw and hammer in the rods that hold the dragon’s poles firmly into the clamps up top.
After a momentous test run, the dragon’s donors got free joyrides before the carousel opened to the public. Cecilia reverted back to a little kid while she giddily bobbed up and down atop the dragon as the carousel spun.
It’s normal for anyone to look child-like when riding on a carousel, but Cecilia has a special childhood connection to this animal in particular.
The Gores, who live in Corvallis, have been supporters of the historic carousel for decades. Their names can even be found on the walls of the building itself, high up toward the rafters in a place of honor reserved for people and businesses who donate large sums to the organization.
But Yun Hsiang is a symbolic addition for the Gores since its name, Yun, was Cecilia’s maiden name when she grew up — in China and then Taiwan — and the Chinese character found on the pearl that the dragon clutches is actually a physical representation of her maiden name. Hsiang means, “harmony” and the symbolism of the dragon, both in Chinese culture and in the hopes of the Gores when they donated it, is to promote friendship and unity.
“The creation of something beautiful is always worthwhile,” said Cecilia Gore of why they sponsored the new installation. “Our hope is that it will make the world brighter and more enchanting for children.”
Special elements are prevalent in every sculpture at the carousel and unique components often represent something personal to the people who paid for the materials, labor and installation.
Daisy, the baby African elephant, for instance, has a little mouse friend sitting on her trunk. He’s singing from a little song-book, and musical notes can be seen lining the elephant’s decorative blanket. That’s because the donating family, The Mikkelsons, wanted some elements of their sculpture to reference their passion for music.
“They reflect the importance of music in the Mikkelsons’ lives and the great joy they have experienced through music,” the bio for this sculpture at the carousel reads.
Volunteers not only helped to make the installation a special occasion, they even fashioned the dragon itself. Yun Hsiang was carved, over more than eight years, by Lee Perigo, who also carved the Chinook salmon and parts of Kiwi, the circus horse.
He said he got into wood carving in the early 1990s and decided he’d donate his skills as a volunteer for the carousel back in 2003.
“I did it mostly because I was retired,” he said. “It seemed like a good project to work on. Since then, it has been amazing to see the public response to what we’ve done here.”
The dragon was painted by a team of three volunteer painters, which took two years. If that seems like a long time it’s because the painting has to be done with a time-consuming process called stippling where the painters don’t use brush strokes and instead dab the oil paint with tiny brushes onto specific points all over the dragon’s scales, claws and fangs.
As the paint dries, the little bubbles of color literally pop, resulting in a vibrant and unblemished appearance instead of a more textured style that comes from traditional painting.
“You won’t see any brush strokes on any of the animals,” said Kathryn Briggs, one of the three painters. “It took six weeks just to do the shading around the scales. It probably took seven coats and each has to dry before the next can be put on.”
Briggs, who’s volunteered at the carousel for 11 years, says that she enjoys letting the public know about all the little personal touches, not to mention the painstaking artistry, that goes into each and every one of the animals in the menagerie.
“It’s a great project to be a part of,” Briggs said. “It’s the happiest place to be.”
Troy Shinn covers healthcare, natural resources and the Linn County government. He can be reached at 541-812-6114 or email@example.com. He can be found on Twitter at @troydshinn.