Painters find menagerie of muses

Local carousel exhibit inspires artists
By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal features editor
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Everyone’s got their favorite. Remember riding a carousel as a child and perusing the different animals before picking the one you wanted to ride? Sonja Hamilton’s watercolor students had a similar experience when selecting a subject to paint among the nearly 20 in the menagerie of antique carousel animals on display at the Placer County Museum. Hamilton was so taken with the “A Leap of Imagination” exhibit that she wanted to share it with her students at Placer School for Adults. “It’s probably been 25 years since I had painted carousel animals, and I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ll bet my students would like it.’ It’s unique, it’s different and who doesn’t like a merry-go-round?” Melanie Barton, Placer County museums administrator, said the carousel animals are carved out of wood in a Country Fair style. The animals date back as far as the 1880s, and the youngest in the bunch are still almost 100 years old. “The beautiful old carousels are really a thing of the past,” Barton said. “Young people, anyone younger than 30, they all grew up with the Magic Mountain, Disneyland-type rides, which are much more exciting.” Barton said visitors of all ages have connected with “A Leap of Imagination.” “I think it’s really uplifting,” she said. “It’s joyful. People come in and they smile and we need more of that. Everyone picks out the one they’re attracted to, and they’re all different.” Barton gave Hamilton and her students permission to photograph the menagerie, which includes everything from horses to a camel and a bear. The students used the photos as guidelines when painting. Hamilton said the project was well received. “This was easy,” she said. “I didn’t have to inspire anyone. I think really what the subject does is bring back childhood memories, so when you start out with something that makes you feel good already, it’s not too hard to get started painting.” Kevin Patterson, a Colfax resident who has been taking Hamilton’s classes for three years, steered clear of the horses when selecting the subject for his painting. “The one that caught my eye was the swan,” he said. “It was carved 107 years ago. It looked so weathered and antique and I just found it fascinating. It looks 107 years old. They had a lot of horses in the exhibit, but I thought I’d pick something not everybody was going to pick.” Roseville resident Selma Riba works mostly with oil paints, and enjoyed changing it up with her watercolor project, which she named “Mr. Wabbit.” “He’s just so appealing and whimsical and he was different from the others,” Riba said of the white rabbit she painted. “He had a funny, snarky face.” Hamilton teaches two weekly classes, and her students created enough paintings to fill not one, but two locations. The show, called “Grab the Brass Ring,” is open through April 4 at the Chocolate Shoppe & Gift Emporium as well as Lighthouse Realty & Art Gallery. Hamilton’s paintings are on display at the Auburn Old Town Gallery, 218 Washington St. A “Brass Ring” reception will be held March 10 to celebrate the students’ works. The Placer County Museum, which normally closes at 4 p.m., will remain open later March 10 for those who want to see the students’ muses. “A Leap of Imagination” continues through May 29. “I just think that Sonja had a great idea and a vision,” Barton said. “It just worked out well for everyone.” __________ A Leap of Imagination What: A carousel animal exhibit When: Through May 29; museum open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. except holidays Where: Placer County Museum, inside Auburn Historic Courthouse, 101 Maple St. Cost: Free Info: (530) 889-6500 Grab the Brass Ring What: Placer School for Adults watercolor exhibit When: Reception from 5-8 p.m. March 10; exhibit runs through April 4 Where: Chocolate Shoppe & Gift Emporium, 823 Lincoln Way, and Lighthouse Realty & Art Gallery, 1558 Lincoln Way