The carousel’s flashing lights and music make it a main attraction for City Park, and not just for kids. It instantly captivated artist Tami Curtis.
Curtis came to New Orleans from north Louisiana in 2001. The carousel reminded her of a “piece of jewelry,” she said.
“The carousel fit the flavor of New Orleans with all the other gorgeous houses and the old architecture. … The carousel was like the princess of the houses, (as if it were saying), ‘Yeah, you good, but look at me,’ ” Curtis said, recalling her first encounter with City Park’s century-old amusement.
Curtis has always had an eye for creativity. When she was only 2, she drew a duck that she still keeps today.
Now, the horses of the City Park carousel are the muses for her canvas.
For about two years, Curtis has been painting each horse of City Park’s 12 flying horses. Every painting takes about 40-50 hours. The paintings will be on exhibit on Nov. 3 at Tami Curtis Gallery, 5523 Magazine St., a commemorative nod to the city landmark that survived Hurricane Katrina.
Curtis will donate 50 percent of sales from her paintings, magnets and calendars to City Park.
The City Park Carousel is the oldest ride in the Hines Carousel Gardens Amusement Park that opened in 1906. It’s one of 100 hand-carved carousels in the U.S, and the only one in Louisiana.
Curtis said she has visited Italy multiple times and has never seen any other work of art like the carousel.
The idea to paint the horses came to her when she saw antique circus posters sold on TV. Since then, she has made sure every detail on each horse painting is exact by studying the horse’s eyes, its saddle, even how long the tongue is.
“It’s not just a carousel,” Curtis said she tells people when they ask her about the hours she puts into the project. “It’s something that ties all the generations that still exist who live in New Orleans.”
During one of her visits to the carousel, Curtis said, she met an 88-year-old women who shared memories from her childhood.
“Her face softened and she was a little girl again. Her eyes sparkled when she said, ‘I almost got it,' grabbing the brass ring." Curtis said. The artist realized that everyone who visits the carousel has an emotional connection to it.
“All of a sudden, adulthood goes away for that fleeting moment. It doesn’t matter if you got that letter from the IRS or have to get a presentation ready for your office the next day, when you’re on that carousel, it’s all about that moment,” Curtis said. “It kind of reminds you to live in the moment.”
In this fast-paced world, few things transport families back in time. “We found our time machine,” Curtis said of the carousel.
The idea to paint the carousel came from her friend, the artist Robert Guthrie, whom she met when she was 17 at art camp.
When Guthrie died in 2014, Curtis determined she would make art that people could connect to.
The carousel project was the last painting they talked about her doing and the biggest project she’s tackled, she said.
For Curtis, art is not about money but to serve her fellow New Orleanians.
“The culture and the people somehow broke my art free,” Curtis said.
“Art is always great for the community; it makes you think,” said Amanda Frentz, a spokesperson for City Park. “There are 12 beautiful paintings; they’re so lifelike and have so much motion and emotion in them.”
Frentz said she couldn’t pick a favorite of the paintings and it reminded her the way children run to the carousel and say, “Oh no, that’s my favorite.”
“I think whether it’s a 6-year-old’s birthday or you got engaged in front of the carousel, it’s a part of being a New Orleanian,” Frentz said.