Each year the town of Somoma has an international film festival. Referred to locally as “Sonomawood.” A bit of “Sonomawood” ambiance was in the air at the Sebastiani Theater this past April 27 as The Somoma League for Historic Presentation hosted a screening of filmmaker Peter Daulton’s documentary “Ride.”
League members and their guests were charmed and inspired by the documentary which highlights the efforts of small town of Albany, Oregon to build a carousel from scratch. “This is our second movie to sponsor at the Sebastiani, said League Executive Director, Robert Demler. Recognizing some similarities of small town life, that transcends Sonoma’s status as a world-class wine country destination, Demler then said, “I wish Sonoma had something like what’s highlighted in Peter’s film, a truly powerful sense of community, that goes beyond just tourism.”
After 37 years a now retired staff member of George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, Daulton had been looking for a film project to do. He stumbled upon an article in a Parade magazine insert in the Sunday newspaper and was immediately pulled to it.
“Here was this wonderful community in a small town working to revive the town by not just bringing a carousel to town, but by building one. That article in Parade was in 2013,” he said. Making several visits up to the town in Oregon, Daulton met with the people of the town who have made the carousel a part of their lives.
The amazing aspect was that this idea which was planted initially in 2003 was taking shape before him. “I love movies. And, I also love amusement parks like Disneyland, said Daulton. Yet there’s something about the homegrown and locally put together fairs, carnivals and festivals. It has its own special magic,” he said.
And the one who stirred that magic that lead to the building of a one-of-a-kind carousel is lifelong Albany resident Wendy Kirby.
Albany Historic Carousel & Museum Executive Director, Peggy Burris considers Kirby as a force to be reckoned with. As she said, “Wendy is some you just don’t say ‘no’ to. She has a will and determination like nobody else I know,” said Burris.
Daulton quickly learned that Kirby, age 78, was definitely the force as Daulton begins the opening scene of his documentary with her.
In speaking to Kirby, she acknowledges it’s really about the community. “Whenever we needed something, it would somehow be provided.”
“I had a good idea to rally around,“ said Kirby in a chat by phone with this reporter on assignment with The Somoma Valley Sun after the screening. “Once the carousel got mentioned in Parade magazine then that really attracted people. And Peter coming to town to make his little documentary that attracted even more,” Kirby said.
“It’s all been like going up a staircase, she added. One step at a time.” Her reason for the idea of a carousel was simple. The sleepy town of Albany needed to be revitalized. “In the 1980s when the malls and big retailers pulled into our area, Kirby said, our town died.”
First Street was and is the main artery of Albany and when First Street died, “it was as if the heart of the town had died,” said Kirby. On a conference trip to Missoula, Missouri, Kirby unexpectedly discovered ‘A Carousel for Missoula.’
“As soon as I saw it, said Kirby, I knew this is what Albany needed.” She explained, “growing up in Albany, our town was a logging town and each year in summer we would have a logger/lumberjack festival.” It was known as the Albany Timber Carnival.
When the logging industry changed, the mill shutdown and that put Albany into an economic slump. “I knew that if a carousel was put at the center of town it would revive the heart, she said. But to do so would require that we build the carousel from scratch, not just restore an old one.”
Her vision expanded further as Kirby noted. “I could see the carousel as a centerpiece with other things and activities around it.”
Her reason being, that if there was more to do and see at the carousel people would stay for hours rather than 15 minutes. “I could see a workshop where the carousel animals were made, a museum, a gift shop, places to eat and so on,” she said.
Kirby’s vision picked up momentum as people in town approached her saying they wanted to help. The Albany City Counsel had said no to her idea but the people wanted to help. It all seemed impossible, yet each step as Kirby reiterated, “whatever we needed it was provided for.” And by 2017 the building and carousel were opened and have been in operation for the past four years.
Half of the animals on the carousel have been completed. And more are currently being carved and made.
“We want to have carousel animals continuously made because that way the carousel will be like a living project,” said Burris. She too talked with The Somoma Valley Sun by phone. Burris is applying for grants, so that an apprenticeship-school can be established. “Carving and woodwork is a craft and an art, Burris said. We need to be able to train the next generation, so that the carousel can continue.”
Like Kirby, she envisions having a set of carousel animals for each season, special occasions and significant events.
This helps make the carousel a year-round spot for people to visit, celebrate holidays and occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, even weddings.
Each animal is a work of art. “Our carousel is like no other in the world,” said Kirby. Even before the salvaged 1909 Dentzel Carousel mechanism was assembled or even donated, people were eager to help. “All this has had a life of its own,” said Kirby.
“This wasn’t just about revitalization of our First Street, Main Street, it’s about creating community and enhancing the quality of life,” said Kirby.
“The film did quite well on PBS having been broadcast to over 40,000,000 households in the summer of 2018, said Daulton, including KQED.”
“It was great to see it on the big screen at the Sebastiani, said Daulton. “The only other time it was shown in a theater was at the Ashland, Oregon International Film Festival.
“We submitted ‘Ride’ to a few other film festivals but programing a 57 minute documentary is a tough sell,” he said. “It’s too short to be included as a feature and too long to be considered as a short.” To learn more about The Historic Carousel & Museum of Albany, Oregon visit the website.