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Creative Expression in the Name of Fun

by Meredith Mullins on October 1, 2014

The vélocipèdes, creative expression with bicycles at funfairs, part of the Musée des Arts Forains (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

The oldest carousel at the Musée des Arts Forains in Paris
Photo © Meredith Mullins

The Art of Funfairs and Carnivals

The sights and smells of carnivals and funfairs are layered deep in memory.

We remember . . .

  • taking pride in choosing our favorite horse on the carousel
  • eating airy sugar in cotton candy clouds
  • digging deep to find our inner superman, someone capable of winning the largest and furriest of the stuffed animals
  • living for the heart-stopping, stomach-spinning rides

We were having so much fun at the funfairs that we probably didn’t give full attention to the detailed art and design of the structures, backgrounds, and carnival characters—creative expression that was especially imaginative if we lived in 19th century Europe.

Three carved horses on a carousel, creative expression via funfairs at the Musée des Arts Forains (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Choose your favorite galloping wooden character.
Photo © Meredith Mullins

Oh, I See the Treasures (Now that I’m Really Looking)

A visit to the Musée des Arts Forains (Museum of Fairground Arts) in Paris brings the beauty of the funfair treasures into clear focus and takes us back in time from 1850 to 1950.

The architecture, sculptures, and paintings that make up the rides and games of this era are a special kind of theater.

Everything works together in this museum of memorabilia to set the stage—a world full of illusion, energy, fanciful characters, magic, and color.

A confectionery, creative expression from the 19th century at the Musée des Arts Forains (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

The confectionery at the Musée des Arts Forains
Photo © Meredith Mullins

Cultural and Artistic Variety in the World of Funfairs

Cultural variety is evident in the museum collection, which was gathered from all over Europe by actor and antiques dealer Jean Paul Favand.

Character for the ball game, creative expression that tests throwing skill at the fun fair and at the Musée des Arts Forains (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

The game of passe-boules, a test of ball-throwing skills (circa 1920)
Photo © Meredith Mullins

For example, the horse tails of the French carousel horses are usually carved in wood. The German horse tails are made of horsehair.

The main carousel has traditional wooden horses and carriages, but the museum also has a carousel of Venetian gondolas as well as one of old-fashioned bicycles.

The Vélocipèdes carousel in motion, creative expression at fun fairs shown at the Musée des Arts Forains in Paris. (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Peddle power on the Vélocipèdes carousel
Photo © Meredith Mullins

The speedy bicycle carousel, the Vélocipèdes (circa 1897), goes 62 kilometers (38 miles) per hour thanks to ambitious riders’ fueling the rotation with their frenetic peddling.

Off to the Races

Another cultural difference is the creative approach to the racing games. The customary horse races are part of the museum collection, where you advance your horse by rolling balls into the high-value holes.

horse race at the Musée des Arts Forains, creative expression in a traditional way. (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

And they’re off . . .
Photo © Meredith Mullins

But, only in French culture would you have La Course des Garçons de Café (the race of the café waiters). The traditional horses are replaced by mustachioed waiters carrying trays of wine glasses. They leap along, at a startling pace—surprising because you rarely see them move that fast in real café life.

waiters in La Cours des Garçonsfrom the carnival game, creative expression at funfairs (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

La Course des Garçons de Café
Photo © Meredith Mullins

Seeing Things Differently

After a visit to the Musée des Arts Forains, I see things differently. I see the beauty of the wood-carved horses, the painted games, the ornate statues and wall murals.

wooden carousel horse with red halter, creative expression from the Musée des Art Forains (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

The beauty of an era past
Photo © Meredith Mullins

I see the technical marvel of the vélocipèdes that can spin at 38 mph and make me hold on for dear life as my high-wheeler takes the curves.

But most of all, I see myself differently—metaphorically of course, but also physically. In the hall of mirrors, without even trying, I lost 20 pounds.

That’s my kind of funfair.

Hall of mirrors, creative expression in the Musée des Arts Forains. (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

The Hall of Mirrors makes dreams come true.
Photo © Meredith Mullins

The Musée des Arts Forains is open during the Journées du Patrimoine in September, during the holiday week in December, and for private tours and events.

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