Any one who enjoys the Cincinnati Park system has monitored over the recent snowy winter with great anticipation the newest addition to the Riverfront: the John G & Phyllis W. Smale Park and the installation of Carol Ann’s Carousel that is it’s focal point.
The Taft Museum of Art, itself a gem in the crown of the Queen City, is hosting an exhibition of the preparatory sketches by artist Jonathan Queen who was commissioned to design and execute the paintings that decorate the outer crown of the carousel and a 16 panel series that decorate the interior core column.
This project’s imagery is a combination of notable landscape scenes from popular parks throughout the city and Queen’s personal work which often features vintage toys and characters.
Queen used action figurines and in some cases, sculpted his own 3D animal characters to build the compositions. On view for the inquisitive public are Queen’s multiple sketches in graphite where he worked out the compositional scenes with the animal animations to fit the unique symmetrically shaped panels typical to the classic carousel structure.
Queen describes his animal characters as encouraging companions, who through various activities, are enjoying the parks as their people counterparts might do. A parental giraffe is viewing the sunset from Alms Park with a juvenile family member by the river overlook. A trench coated red fox is shooting photos in Eden park by the Gazebo. A youthful elephant is racing with the wind while flying a kite in Ault park.
The drawing for the elephant character reveals the artist in the process of transforming the natural animal into a child companion. Notice that only one of the figures in the upper right presents the animal as it appears in nature. given its size and relation to the natural figure it is probably the first drawing on the page. This galloping gesture is immediately abandoned in favor of a two-legged upright animal holding the string of the kite with his trunk or impossibly with the three toed foot. Several versions explore the suitability of rendering the head with natural skull shapes in various positions. the tusks appear in only one version and are promptly discarded. The bolder drawing of the lower left entertains a figure with the head based on a simple balloon and large doe eyes, dressed in a child’s tee and summer shorts. Despite having human-jointed arms and fingered hands, the sweetly styled head still controls the kite string with the curl of the trunk. The artist’s sinistral preference is indicated in the progression of the figures in size and maturing concepts from upper right to lower left.
The next step places this last version in the park scape depicting the juvenile character without the clothing option and assigns the composition and color palette for the Alms park landscape. The figure races across the great lawn in the lower left as the kite string leads the eye back to the elegant Renaissance styled architecture of the Ault Park Pavilion.
The inner panel series is focused on historic landmarks in Cincinnati, some of which are no longer in existence. Queen researched the images extracting some from old monotone postcards. He colorized the scenes to harmonize with the overall carousel color palette.
Also notable is that Queen worked with student apprentices from ArtWorks. Youth participants learned on the job while creating various stages of the commission in the studio.
The exhibition affords an insight into the developmental process of this commission that is not often visible in the final work but is recognized by every artist as essential to the successful product. The combination of nostalgic imagery and the whimsical animal rides will add to the common enjoyment of the new park and entice all generations of visitors in the years to come.