Warehouse Mardi Gras

March 9, 2019

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans about a minute before Mardi Gras hit its Fat Tuesday height. Even better, I wrangled my way into a few warehouse studios thanks to my friend Reynard, an artist whose fulltime gig is painting parade floats.

Anyone unfamiliar with Mardi Gras in New Orleans might not realize Mardi Gras goes way beyond just Fat Tuesday. Carnival in New Orleans begins as soon as the new year turns, and there seems no end to the parade of parades. The weekend before and up through Fat Tuesday, you can see up to six parades a day, and Fat Tuesday alone has eleven parades going on all day long across the city.0

Catholics might begin their Lenten season of fasting, self-denial, and prayer on Ash Wednesday, but in New Orleans the parades continue. On St. Patrick’s Day, float riders have been known to toss raw cabbages instead of beads, and on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, the American Italian Marching Club holds their parade in the French Quarter. The Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day is “Super Sunday,” because it’s the day the famous Mardi Gras Indians emerge Uptown to parade and display their incredibly ornate costumes.

So if you don’t mind paint by the gallon and a canvas the size of an 18-wheeler, you too could make art every day, then have your creation viewed by thousands for one bright, shining moment. Think big.

Reynard showed me floats for two parades, one playful, one classic. First was Iris, the first female Krewe, dating back to 1917. Their theme this year was “Iris Through a Child’s Eyes.” Yep, you’ll recognize some of these folks . . .

Next was the remarkable collection of floats from the Krewe of Hermes, an all-male Krewe that began in the midst of the Depression. Hermes holds the distinction of having the first-ever parade with neon lights in 1938 and being the oldest continuous night parading krewe in Carnival. Hermes was also one of the first krewes to parade following Hurricane Katrina; their 2006 parade drew record crowds.

The Krewe of Hermes has a reputation for parading floats with the highest level of craftsmanship and detail. The handcrafted and painted flowers, the statuesque props, and the gold leaf create stunning tableaus one after another. This year’s theme? The Court Music of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, with a little art deco styling thrown in for good measure.

I was back in NH before Hermes hit the streets, but thanks to nola.com and the Times-Picayune, I could experience a little bit of the parade online. There was a mystery to seeing the floats waiting in the warehouse for their one night, and a delight to get a close look without getting hip-checked by bead enthusiasts, but I am sorry I missed seeing their one night of glory on the streets. Maybe next year. . .

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