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Artist restores carousel horses

Lawrence Pierce
Roger Lucas (right) restored two deteriorating horses from an old carousel for Kitty Dooley and Chuck Green of Charleston.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Earlier this year, musician and artist Roger Lucas got an unusual telephone call.

"My phone rang one day. It was Chuck. He wanted to know if I knew anybody who could paint carousel horses. I thought he wanted a painting of a carousel horse," Lucas said.

"Then I realized it was the horses he wanted painted. I said I would try. I went up to his house and met him and saw the horses a couple of days later."

Chuck Green, an inspector for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and his wife, Katherine L. "Kitty" Dooley, a lawyer, bought two old bedraggled carousel horses at an auction in Terra Alta in Preston County, just before Memorial Day.

Dooley has been a life-long fan of carousel horses. Today, she has a collection of smaller replicas of the full-size horses in her Charleston home.

"I have collected miniature carousel horses for years, quite a lot of them. My favorite ride at the amusement park was always on the carousels," she said.

Green said he learned about the auction of the two carousel horses when "one of my co-workers, who is on E-Bay all the time, called me and told me about the upcoming auction at Terra Alta."

Lucas said, "One was in really bad shape. Chuck brought them over to my house on the West Side. They weigh a ton, so I leaned them onto both ends of our dining room table.

"It took me about a month to restore them and paint them. I would call Kitty and she would come over and discuss new colors for the horses.

"When I finished them, they rented a U-Haul truck and brought them to Ed Hillebrand in South Charleston, who built the stands."

Hillebrand, who specializes in creating high-quality wooden furniture, added floor bases and golden poles for both horses.

"He did a beautiful job. That took another month," Lucas said. "After Ed finished, some of the paint was scraped off. I touched them up and revarnished them at Kitty's house."

Dooley has a book about the history of carousel horses, which includes hundreds of photographs of the popular wooden animals.

"Her book gave me an idea of what she was looking for," Lucas said. "This was a different kind of project, something you don't get every day."

Dooley is also co-director of the J.R. Clifford Project, which frequently presents a play about Clifford, West Virginia's first African-American lawyer who founded an African-American newspaper and practiced law in Martinsburg.

Lucas ran the Roger Lucas Gallery on Quarrier Street for years, where he framed photographs and art, produced his own work and sold a variety of other artistic works.

"I do a lot of pen-and-ink renderings of people's homes. I recently finished two paintings of wine bottles and wine glasses for a customer in Florida. Today, I am working on a big landscape picture."

Lucas is still in the framing business, which he now runs out of his home.

He met his wife Deborah Lucas while they were students at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. For many years, they have offered vocal lessons to dozens of high school students, as well as adults, in their Charleston home.

"Debbie and I sang professionally for a long time. Then we moved to Charleston raise a family. The two of us began to teach."

Both Roger and Debbie have also been choir members at the Kanawha United Presbyterian Church for years.

"Today, we usually have at least 60 students. We teach a lot of high schools students in school choirs or who are interested in going to college and majoring in music.

"I also teach more mature people," Lucas said on Saturday. "Today, I started with a 60-year-old guy who has a nice tenor voice. I am too busy to ever retire."

Daniel King and Emily Hopkins, who graduated from high school earlier this year, were two of their recent voice students.

King and Hopkins each received $45,000 in scholarships to attend the prestigious Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College in Ohio, where they are now freshmen.

"Our former students are all over the country, singing at lots of different universities and conservatories," Lucas said.

To contact Roger or Debbie Lucas, call 304-344-2787.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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