Unlike the famous arcade carousels that were crafted by highly trained artisans, the remarkable folk art carousel in the Frenzel Gallery was created by Louis Dartanion Alexatos, a self-taught artist. Alexatos (1921-2006) spent time as a cowboy, a transient carnival worker, a charter boat captain, and a professional fencing instructor, before returning to his native Pennsylvania to set up shop in Pleasantville, near Titusville. His shop on State Street doubled as an antique store and the Alexatos studio, where he produced his folk art carvings.
This diminutive and quirky moving sculpture is one of the artist’s earlier works, created in the mid-20th century and acquired by Fox’s Markets in 1960. It was on display at Fox’s Harrisburg grocery store until it closed in 2006. This type of carousel is known as a “menagerie machine,” because it includes a variety of animals other than horses. Even more unusual than the lion or giraffe, however, is the Christian iconography decorating the carousel’s upper level. There, Alexatos’s robed characters pray, present offerings, and make supplications—flanked by a Christ figure and a grinning Devil whose sack is marked “SOULS.” Panels between the figures illustrate scenes from the Old and New Testament.
In his final years, Alexatos became nearly blind, but continued to carve. A great lover of animals, he kept a pet raccoon and prepared a 25 lb. turkey each Thanksgiving for the neighborhood cats. In the year following his death, the borough of Pleasantville acquired his now-iconic home and converted it into the current Pleasantville Historical Museum. The Erie Art Museum is grateful to Dr. Kirk Steehler, who purchased the carousel from Fox’s Market and donated it to the Museum, and to John Vahanian and Dave Seitzinger, who spent several weeks reassembling the piece so that the public may now enjoy it.