Schenectady County

Carver fashions beaver for Adirondack carousel

Carl Borst knows all about beavers. The aquatic animals fold their front paws while swimming, and r
Carl Borst of Rotterdam shows off the beaver he has carved for the Adirondack Carousel in Saranac Lake.
Carl Borst of Rotterdam shows off the beaver he has carved for the Adirondack Carousel in Saranac Lake.

Carl Borst knows all about beavers.

The aquatic animals fold their front paws while swimming, and rely on powerful back legs and tail for propulsion through the water.

Their teeth are light yellow. Nose and eyes are dark brown.

When they wear saddles, the equipment is generally bright red, with a blue belt underneath and gold tassels on the side.

“I’ve researched all the beavers who have saddles on them,” Borst said, smiling. “And that’s the way most of them wear them.”

There’s only one. He’s been spending all his time in Borst’s backyard workshop on South Westcott Road in Rotterdam.

Borst, an internationally recognized woodcarver, has built, cut, sanded and painted the 50-pound beaver out of basswood. On Thursday, the lifelike replica will be introduced to residents of Saranac Lake as the latest member of the Adirondack Carousel.

The carousel is a study in both ambition and creativity. Instead of painted ponies and poles spinning merrily in a circle, the Adirondack model will feature 23 handcrafted wildlife figures. Volunteers like Borst are building the menagerie, which will include a raccoon, otter, duck, bass, bobcat and even a black fly.

“You can’t really do anything in the Adirondacks without the black fly,” Borst said.

The big machine will be housed inside a year-round pavilion and is expected to open in Saranac Lake’s William Morris Park in 2009. The project will cost about $1.2 million.

Borst began building “Bucky” in 2004, and estimates he’s invested about 1,500 hours on the 41⁄2-foot-long piece of art.

“He weighed a lot more when I started,” said Borst, 75, who owned Borst Oil and Tire in Rotterdam before retiring and entrusting the business to his sons. “He lost a little bit of weight every day.”

The project started with four flat blocks of basswood and wood glue. Borst used a band saw to cut an outline. Chisels gave Bucky his face and form.

Borst enjoyed working with both beaver and basswood. “It’s tightly grained, very nice to carve and relatively inexpensive,” he said of the wood. “They used to call it boxwood. When they had orange crates and beverage containers, they used a lot of wooden boxes.”

By the time Bucky had his cheeks, eyes, paws and tail, Borst had his wood gouges ready. Marks near the beaver’s nose represent whiskers; small carvings on fur and tail offer texture to the future merry-go-round star.

Some departures from nature have been made. Bucky has a smile on his big, brown face.

“You don’t want to make the thing look fierce,” Borst said, aware that thousands of children will be riding on Bucky’s broad back. “You want to make him look a little endearing.”

That might be a trick for the black fly. At least the fearsome pest pictured in the carousel brochure has blue eyes.

Borst has included some extras for Bucky. A couple lily pads add green and white accents to the beaver’s back. And kids with sharp eyes will spot the orange ladybug “hidden” under Bucky’s tail. All carousel characters will have hidden ladybugs; kids will be challenged to find as many as they can.

Bucky’s ladybug was just a dab of paint. The rest of the job, raw umber for nose and eyes, burnt umber for the body and the reds and blues for the saddle, was tougher, even with Kay Borst, Carl’s wife, picking out the colors and helping in a couple of spots.

“I enjoy the carving,” Borst said. “The painting is a labor.”

Self-taught carver Borst has been working with wood since 1992. That’s his seven-foot-tall Uncle Sam at Troy City Hall. He also crafts caricatures.

Animals have been in Borst’s workshop lately. He also carved the carousel’s raccoon; he helped design the bass and built the form. Bucky has passed the artist’s test — for the most part.

“I like him, I’m pretty pleased with him,” Borst said, adding he is never 100 percent satisfied with his creations. “I can see things I’ve done wrong. I won’t tell you where they are.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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