Red Hook’s agricultural history is now proudly displayed on the Empire State Carousel at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, thanks to Dick Franklin, an active volunteer and local wood carver.
Franklin describes himself as an avid student of history and art. Some time ago, he visited Cooperstown and stopped in at the Farmers’ Museum, which was opened in 1944 and incorporates land and buildings that were part of a working farm since 1813.
The museum houses 23,000 artifacts related to agrarian life in New York State. And one of its highlights is the Empire State Carousel, which is housed in a 12-sided building with eight-foot curved murals showing milestones of state history, such as the arrival of the Half Moon and the construction of Levittown.
The carousel itself, which opened in 2006, features 25 hand-carved animals native to the state, as well as chariot rides in an Erie Canal boat and a scallop-shell, which represents the state shellfish. Circling the top of the structure is the “free board,” which displays hand-carved names of towns.
During the tour, Franklin found out that every town in the state is welcome to submit a representative carving for the free board. As an avid wood carver, he immediately requested an application in order to carve a sign for Red Hook.
At the time, he had an idea that the carving would celebrate Red Hook’s Bicentennial, but family illness delayed his work and he finally finished the carving this year.
Franklin described the piece as about 4 inches high and 15 inches long. The name Red Hook is in blue, with a carved red apple to the left and a blue hook in the middle.
“The hook in the middle represents the railroad train coupling for the trains that left Red Hook to take agricultural goods, as well as products from the Chocolate Company, into New York City. The red apple, of course, is one of our premier agricultural products,” Franklin said.
He said the museum provided the piece of wood because all the pieces are original to the carousel, adding, “I just had to do the carving.” The wood is basswood and comes from the Linden tree. According to Franklin, basswood is preferred by wood carvers who use knives.
The museum also required that the carving be a relief carving done by hand, not by machine, which Franklin said is a more relaxing method for him anyway.
Franklin has been carving for over 35 years, ever since an automobile accident left him bedridden while he recovered.
“Someone brought over a knife and a little piece of wood cut out of a 2′ x 4′. We were talking and at the end of the evening, I ended up with a bed full of wood chips and a thing that looked a little bit more like a whale. I was hooked,” he recalled.
Franklin has lived in Red Hook about that long, too, and has been an active volunteer in town committees and the fire department the whole time. He currently serves on the town Water Board and the Disaster Preparedness Committee.
“I fill in wherever the town needs some extra help. It’s how I give back,” he said.
“I get to meet a lot of interesting people and I have fun with it. You want to stay young? Get involved.”