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Carousel Figure: Cat

Origin: America, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Overall: 62 x 53 x 12in. (157.5 x 134.6 x 30.5cm)
Painted basswood with glass eyes
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1969.703.1
A painted wooden figure of an oversized, leaping, brownish-grey cat, its head and tail held upright. Its proper left front paw is raised higher than its right front paw and turned inward, showing the viewer the pad of its paw with the claws curled under. Its glass eyes are hazel. Its fur and whiskers are indicated by incised grooves. It wears a light blue saddle with a red and yellow saddle blanket, a white ribbon girth, and a gold ribbon breast band tied in a bow over the proper right shoulder. The cat's head is turned slightly to the right, and it holds a fish in its mouth. Originally, the figure was supported by a pole running vertically through the body behind the neck.
Label:Munich-born Gustav Dentzel (1846-1909) established the G. A. Dentzel Steam and Horse Power Carousel Company in Philadelphia in 1867. In 1903, he hired Salvatore Cernigliaro, a Sicilian emigrant with excellent woodworking experience who quickly revolutionized the shop's output. Quiet, courteous, and supremely confident of his eye and hand skills, Cernigliaro dropped many of Dentzel's predictable, time-worn patterns and re-designed others, bringing into production an expanded array of animals noted for playful poses, naturalistic details, and fanciful trappings.
Cernigliaro executed the first few examples of his innovative designs, but other carvers in the shop quickly emulated him, so it is impossible to say whether the master himself crafted any particular figure. In fact, the company continued to offer Cernigliaro's exuberant leaping cat even after 1909, when Gustav Dentzel died, his son William took over, and Cernigliaro left. All Dentzel's cats raise front left paws and grip prey in their mouths. Variations exist among their expressions and adornments, however, and in addition to fish, Dentzel offered felines grasping birds, frogs, crabs, and even squid.

Provenance:Carl Phare, Seattle, Wash.; Maurice Fraley, Redbug Gallery, Berkeley, Calif.