David M. Dailey, Jr. wanted to learn how to carve wood in his spare time.
Most folks with that yearning would take a knife and whittle away at a stick.
But Dailey isn't most folks. The Palmerton man is a study in contrasts, a guy who breaks the mold.
By day, he's the straightlaced, disciplined fleet manager for Pencor Services, Inc., where he's been employed for the past 23 years. There, he handles vehicle acquisition, maintenance, compliance, tracking, reviewing costs and logistics and all components of transportation and equipment needs. He and his team work with assembly-line precision on a daily basis.
But in his leisure time, the 45-year-old Princeton Pines resident is a free spirit adrift in color and design. He's an inquiring mind who walks in the footsteps of his maternal grandparents from whom he inherited the gift of artistry.
With innate creativity coursing through his veins, Dailey reached deep inside and produced much more than a whittled stick.
The end result of his curiosity is a breathtaking, 1916-style, C.W. Parker carousel jumper horse, rendered to perfection by use of an excruciatingly accurate blueprint furnished by Zon Publishing Co.
"It took about 2-1/2 years. I just wanted to teach myself carving techniques," explains Dailey.
Why a carousel horse? He says the idea came about by accident.
"My brother Daniel was home from Iraq after his third tour and the entire family needed a way to spend some quality time together." To smell the roses, the family visited Knoebel's Amusement Park, Elysburg.
"The children were amused with the rides but Dan and I were consumed by the museums," says Dailey. "The carousel museum in the center of the park was of particular interest. After carefully examining the pictures of the old-time wood shops and the intricately carved animals, I looked at my brother and said, 'I can do this.' He looked at me and said, 'David, do you realize how much work that is?'"
About a month later, Dailey's wife, the former Lisa Dreisbach of Lehighton, purchased a reference book called 'Painted Ponies' by William Manns, Peggy Shank, and Marianne Stevens. The book of American carousel art is a treasure trove of photos and biographies of famous wood carvers and the history of the carousel. Those colorful pages put Dailey in the carver's saddle.
He began his project with $500 worth of wood, specifically eleven blocks of kiln-dried American linden purchased from Bailey's Lumber, Hamburg. He sketched an approximation of the horse head and other features and made initial rough cuts using a bandsaw. He then hand carved details, carefully using mallets and various size chisels. At one point, Dailey used a razor-sharp Xacto blade to achieve the finest, hairline cuts. Encouraged by Lisa and daughter Meghan, 17, Dailey persevered for months on end. It's one thing to be an artist. It's quite another to be a perfectionist. Dailey is both.
Once the major components had been sculpted, Dailey turned to the next steps: gluing, planing, sanding and, finally, finish painting done in laborious detail.
"I used acrylics. Some of it is sprayed. It still needs to be clear-coated," he says. The blueprints provided a basic guideline, but Dailey largely customized his horse to his own desires, including choosing the complement of colors and decorations.
Among the horse's regalia are military coins applied to the saddle and bridle. The coins were gifts from brother Daniel, a Command Sgt. Major with the U.S. Army. Dailey then added a carved eagle with an American flag at its talons, giving the horse a regal, patriotic theme. That touch of military flavor also reflects Dailey's service to his country. He has fond memories of his days serving in the U.S. Army where he functioned as heavy equipment repair and recovery technician for a tank battalion.
Interestingly, in the carousel industry, hand carved horses are a thing of the past. Today's versions are plastic-molded replicas. But Dailey made the real thing. His horse is a throwback to an enchanting era of American history when a man's personality was reflected in highly individualistic craftsmanship
He won't put a value on the finished piece. Typical carousel horses sell for $2,500 to $20,000. One antique carousel figure was offered for sale recently for $45,000. According to price guides, Dailey's horse, although not antique, could be worth in the $5,000 range due to its rich feel and "presence," along with attention to detail, the use of unusual military coins and top quality, kiln-dried wood, not to mention the investment of man-hours.
Dailey says he learned that carving provides a special benefit.
"It frees the mind. It's relaxing - like when your brother's in Iraq and you're worried. This is therapy for me."
He intends to keep the horse in the family. In fact, it might end up with his brother.
"Art is to be shared. It's something to enjoy and it tells a story," says Dailey. "There's nothing better than to understand the history behind a piece, knowing the story and culture of what's behind it."
David Dailey knows that creativity is rich in meaning. He understands that life's best moments can live forever through the timeless magic of art. Art at its most personal level reveals details about ourselves and our world. It's a glimpse inside the mind of man.
In Carbon County, there's a striking masterpiece that tells a story about a special man and his horse.