You may have passed his workshop when visiting The Factory and wondered what was happening in there while marveling at the carved masterpieces set about the space. Just as interesting as the pieces is Ken Means’ story behind his carousel creation. Most often carousels are created by a collection of carvings from multiple individuals, but Ken has singlehandedly created this collection, making the carousel uniquely transcendent.
A recent transplant from Oregon, Ken and his wife Betty have made Franklin home after almost a decade of going back and forth between Franklin and the south coast of Oregon. Prior to beginning to curate his own carousel, he made custom animals, did restoration work and had his own carousel carving school.
Each piece Ken makes has a wonderful story of creation and lends itself to the piece's personality. One of Ken’s favorite pieces is Punch, a long-haired goat. Ken felt it was important to have a “goat to represent the golden age of the carousel.” Punch got his name as a nod to the old Punch and Judy puppet shows that were popular during the 60's. Punch’s side-kick Judy has yet to be created and is still a twinkle in Ken’s eye, as he has five pieces left to create. Another particularly fun piece is the braying donkey, based on a real donkey that Ken and his wife Betty used to hear every afternoon at 4:00 pm when he’d holler for his food. The donkey was on a farm not too far from Ken’s shop in Oregon, when the donkey would get ornery and holler for his food like clockwork. It was such a
constant that his braying is now forever preserved as one of Ken’s endearing creations. Ken’s goal is to ‘’capture character, not cartoon” of his animals.
A small horse named Daisy that was commissioned in 1988 by a gentleman for his wife will be a piece on Ken’s carousel. Daisy was well-loved not only by the woman, but by her four children as well and when she passed away, unable to choose which child to bequeath the horse to, the gentleman returned the horse to Ken. Other pieces Ken has made house piggy banks or small time capsules in the bellies of the animals as special treats or surprises for the recipients.
Holding true to the history Ken is knowledgeable and emphatic about, the mechanism that will power the carousel is a device from 1915 and was once a part of Barnum and Bailey’s when they were a traveling circus. The carousel will contain 21 “jumpers,” which are the animals that move up and down,
while the remaining will be standards; among the animals will also be two chariots. He’ll crown the carousel with 120 custom flowers at the base of the 12 hand-carved rounder boards. In recent years, carousels have been made with fiberglass animals, but Ken’s creations are carved out of basswood from a Linden tree.
The carousel has yet to find a home. Ken is hoping to make his carousel home in middle Tennessee and more ideally, Franklin, so his grandkids can enjoy it.
"I want to capture the character of the animals." -- Ken Means