Building New Orleans traditions: Mardi Gras World

Mardi Gras World is a living museum for an international festival as celebrated as it’s misunderstood. Daily public tours showcase a wide range of Mardi Gras themes from the ribald to down home family friendly. And while a guest is snapping photos and listening to the guide, Kern Studio artists are busy in the real work of creating Mardi Gras 2015.

painting a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
painting a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

 

Mardi Gras decoration on a French Quarter house mid-January 2015
Mardi Gras decoration on a French Quarter house mid-January 2015

Fat Tuesday falls on February 17th this year (2015)  but in New Orleans, Mardi Gras season  begins on the Twelfth Night of Christmas,  January 6,  which also happens to be the birthday of the city’s patron saint, Joan of Arc. History, legend and real life often create everyday activities in culturally diverse New Orleans. At Mardi Gras World that legacy keeps 50 artists busy year round.

 

a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

 

a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

 

 

 

 

 

a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

 

 

 

 

painting a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
painting a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

Mardi Gras expresses the uniqueness of a region that’s been home and country to Native Americans, Europeans, Africans, the Americas and displaced populations (Cajuns, slaves). There are Mardi Gras parades from Mobile, Alabama to Galveston, Texas and in every parish in southern Louisiana. But New Orleans is the cultural center of Mardi Gras in North America.

 

a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

Mardi Gras is the gumbo of festivals, a melange of cultural and social influences. It has traditions set by krewes – dozens of them – but it’s the individual themes chosen each year by the krewes that make  Mardi Gras parades unpredictable fun. Yet the evolution of Mardi Gras as we know it today is an 1870s invention of New Orleans businessmen to honor the visit of a Russian prince on Fat Tuesday. They created the Krewe of Rex and the good times have been rolling since.

the immense Smokey Mary train float, Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
the immense Smokey Mary train float, Krewe of Orpheus, Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

Mardi Gras World is a family owned juggernaut of monumental float designs. Founded in the 1930s by New Orleans artist Blaine Kern (Kern Studios ) what started as painting random props for parade floats quickly blossomed into contracts with over a dozen of Mardi Gras most influential and historic krewes including Rex. Beyond parades, Kern Studios is the leader in creating “themed environments” for conventions, resorts and the media.

prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

The krewes own the massive float infrastructures – the actual moving machines – but the decorations, the props, are usually rented from Kern Studios since themes change annually. Many props today start with a base of styrofoam.

carving the styrofoam base of a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
carving the styrofoam base of a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

Often props are repurposed several times and Kern Studio artists make magic with such standard mediums as paper mache to create features.

adding paper mache to a prop before painting at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
adding paper mache to a prop before painting at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

The larger than life demensions of most props dictate spray painting as an efficient method, although meticulous brush painting may still be necessary with elaborate detail.

spray painting a prop at Mardi Gras World
spray painting a prop at Mardi Gras World

 

brush painting a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
brush painting a prop at Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

Appropriate to the city’s nickname, the Big Easy, after the tour guests are free to wander the massive warehouse admiring, photographing and watching the artists at work. One would never guess that the parades begin in a couple short weeks. By the end of January, Mardi Gras season will be in full swing with over two weeks of parades, many showcasing the grandeur and fun of Kern Studio’s Mardi Gras World artistry.

Mardi Gras World, New Orleans
Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

Mardi Gras World, located on the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans, is open for tours seven days a week. Parking is available but a free shuttle runs from several hotels and tourist locations in the city.

Click  New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade for a complete 2015 schedule.

Watch Smokey Mary in action at the Krewe of Orpheus 2013 parade:

 

You can read more of my articles at…

Hellenic News of America

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