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A Carousel for Missoula will get a funding boost from a longtime supporter: Missoula artist Larry Pirnie.

The painter donated 15 framed, original paintings that will be sold on Sunday at the carousel.

Pirnie said he'd support any effort to "keep those horses running."

"I'm always impressed with the people here I meet who are keeping up these horses," he said.

Carousel director Theresa Cox said the horse that Pirnie painted back in 1995 when the carousel opened remains one of the most popular. He considers it a high compliment that little kids will sometimes wait a turn to ride Paint, as the horse is named.

The carousel was originally the brainchild of carpenter Chuck Kaparich, who took the idea to City Council. A foundation was formed and money was raised from community members. The horses themselves were carved by Kaparich and volunteers with some expert instruction.

To keep the wheel spinning at its steady clip, the carousel also relies on volunteers.

Cox said that every Tuesday night, mechanics come in to do maintenance to keep the vintage machinery running. They're joined by eight to 10 carvers, who help repaint the wooden horses from the usual wear and tear, and also work on projects for other volunteer-based carousels around the country.

​The wear and tear comes courtesy of the estimated 200,000 rides sold each year.

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Each painting will be sold for $1,200. During the viewing on Sunday, May 6, the carousel will run from 4-5:30 p.m. with punch and cookies. At 5:30, there's a no-host bar for adults 21 and up and appetizers. At 6:15 p.m., names will be drawn for each painting. The first name picked will have dibs on buying it. Cox said some people have already bid on more than one piece. If they're selected for more pieces but don't want them, they're welcome to decline and a second name will be drawn.

If you can't make it to the event, call 406-543-8382, and they can enter your name for you.

Pirnie selected the paintings from a series of 50 that he'd created. In each piece, he used a simplified horse form and put his passion into his trademark, bright color schemes.

"I do this quite often, so that color becomes my voice more than trying to imitate a particular symbol," he said. The horse, meanwhile, is "endlessly interesting" to him, probably the reason why he loves working with the carousel. His horse pictures even appeal to some of his fans, who are drawn by the color rather than the subject matter.

It might surprise some fans, but Pirnie wasn't always as colorful as he is now. He attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where the aspiring Western artist butted heads with his instructors. Abstract art was on its way out, and they pushed him to think of color outside of form.

He didn't listen then, but six years into his career following in the footsteps of Charlie Russell, he had a revelation. After considering the art and artists that he admires, he decided that "bold color" was the common denominator, yet all his paintings were dominated by earth tones. He embraced what he calls a kid-like, rather than intellectualized, approach. He soon began using squeeze bottles, cutouts and papier-mache, and became the Pirnie so widely collected now.

He hopes the sale will "help inspire people to keep donating," he said. He's always "impressed with the efforts people make to keep it fun."

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