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FAIRGROUND ART AT CARTERS STEAM FAIR


Joby Carter signwriting the Token Booth.

The vintage fairground stands out against modernity because of its enticingly sparkling bright paintwork, glistening in the light of many bulbs. The art of the fair has roots going back through the centuries; early carriage painters and folk artists, inspired by modern ideas and styles, painted fairground rides to appeal to the public and transport them from the drudgery of their lives to another world, full of colour and drama, danger and delight.

In the early days of mechanical rides, during the 19th century, there was a fashion for painting exotic scenes of jungle animals – something the patrons were very unlikely to have ever seen first hand – and portraits of movers and shakers of the era. In the days before television, electricity and the motor car, this was the closest anyone could come to a multi-sensory experience. Many poor rural people couldn't afford their own horses, so to ride the gallopers and take off the upper classes was a very special treat, surrounded by portaits of royalty and riches that they could never dream of. It provided a bit of beauty and excitement in an otherwise tough existence for many people. The mechanical music of the organ was also unlike anything else at that time.

Some rides were intensely carved, decorated and embellished to be an assault on the senses, which adds to the thrill. Some of the more modest rides, such as the Swingboats, were built by carriage builders and decorated in the way you would see on the chassis of a farm cart or living wagon, with decorative chamfered beams lined along their length. The larger rides feature scrolls and gold leaf, often in a rococo style.

The later rides owned by Carters Steam Fair are painted in a style of dramatic three-dimensionality by the masters of fairground painting in the first half of the 20th century: Hall and Fowle. Billy Hall and Fred Fowle's work is unmistakeable in its design and skill, using gold and aluminium leaf, flamboyant enamels and a lot of guts they made some of the most extraordinary and


Aaron Stephens' beautiful artwork on the Whirl-a-Round twist
 

exuberant artwork that can be seen on the fair to this day, most notably the Skid, the Octopus, and the Hook a Duck hoopla stall which are owned by Carters Steam Fair. Billy Hall's older brother Edwin was also a fairground painter, whose stylish art deco work is very recognisable. Joby Carter's personal favourite artists were a father and son team, master painters Sid and Albert Howell, who worked for one of the most prolific and well-respected fairground ride building firms, Orton & Spooner. The Howells painted the Ark originally when it was first built for the Thurstons, and Joby faithfully recreated the artwork when he restored it.

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Detail from one of the rounding boards of the Gallopers painted by Anna Carter.

We at Carters continue in the fairground tradition with a great deal of care and attention spent on the design and paintwork for the rides in our care. We're extremely keen that these skills don't die out, and we continue to paint everything on the fair by hand with a brush, from the rides to the lorries and caravans. The legacy of artists like Hall and Fowle is important, and when paintwork eventually gets to the end of its life, worn and shabby through constant use, we repaint and restore it faithfully in the same colours and design so our rides are as close to how they they were designed to be as possible.

John Carter went to the Slade School of Art and used his grounding in graphic art and design all through his career, designing and illustrating posters for events and working on artwork for the Fair. Only a few examples of his painting can still be seen – the panels along the base of the Original Shooting Saloon are the best examples.

Anna Carter, right from the early days of the fair, was painting incredible scenic paintings on the rides, from the jungle scenes on the Gallopers to the dog-fights and drama which circle the Dive-Bomber. Trained at art school and well versed in graphic design, she has since completed countless beautiful works which decorate almost every ride – the Gallopers alone features more than fifty individual portraits. Since Joby Carter took over the running of the fair in 2015, Anna has been able to get back to painting again, something she loves to do.


Aaron Stephens painting The Whirl-a-Round twist, a true masterpiece of fairground art.

Joby Carter was enthralled by letters almost before he could read, and would spend his days at school doodling them in the back of his exercise books. Stan Wilkinson, the signwriter at Carters at the time (he has since retired), noticed Joby's keeness to learn the art, and set about teaching him to paint letters and to "line out" (the fine lines you see around panels) the rides and wagons. Joby is an excellent signwriter, and is proficient with gilding and graphic decoration. He is passionate about authenticity and the tradition of fairground painting, and many of the rides on the fair have been painted by him. A mine of information on vintage fairground makers and painters, he also runs painting courses, both in signwriting and coach painting techniques – click here for more information.

Seth Carter is also a fantastic painter, and is particularly good at decoration and gilding. His attention to detail is impressive, and some of the restoration work he has carried out on existing vintage paintwork is almost indiscernable from the original – particularly on the front of the Octopus, which he had to paint from scratch to replicate the original, which was suffering from years on the road. Trained at the Royal Berkshire College of Art & Design, Seth is also an accomplished fine artist, painting beautiful oils on canvas, and is an excellent photographer. Many of his works are for sale here.


Seth Carter working on marbled pillars.

Joby and Seth's sisters Amber and Rosie also paint, and Amber used to work for film production companies painting scenery – not a million miles from the scenic painting skills of her mother Anna.

Aaron Stephens, who originally attended one of Joby's painting courses and was so good he was taken on full time, is a key member of the team. Aaron is an excellent fairground painter, and is extremely adept and well-versed in the strong designs and styles of Edwin Hall, Fred Fowle and master builders Orton & Spooner. He is able to create extremely authentic and dramatic designs for vintage fairground rides, and works full-time as a decorator at the yard. Aaron's work is invaluable: he is to Carters what Sid Howell was to Orton & Spooner.

Signwriting Courses

Joby Carter runs extremely popular courses in signwriting, fairground and coach painting for people who are interested in learning these fast-dying techniques. You can find out more about them and book online here.


Aaron Stephens painting the rounding boards of the Austin Cars in the paintshop.

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