February 7, 2014
Vegetable-themed Carnival parade float and costume designs by Carlotta Bonnecaze are on display at Tulane.
Using the theme “A Dream of the Vegetable Kingdom,” the Krewe of Proteus created Carnival floats and costumes for its 1892 parade based on corn, watermelon, and even English peas. Intended as working drawings for float builders and costumiers, the designs from the Louisiana Research Collection at Tulane University are now on display in the Special Collections gallery, Jones Hall, Room 201.
“The hand-painted watercolor designs are by Carlotta Bonnecaze, the first woman and first Creole to design floats for a carnival krewe,” says Lee Miller, head of the Lousiana Research Collection. Carnival historian Henri Schindler calls Bonnecaze’s work “astonishing” and argues that in this 1892 parade, she used subtle layers of color to achieve her most beautifully painted designs.
“A Dream of the Vegetable Kingdom” is a rare instance of the Louisiana Research Collection preserving both a complete set of 18 float designs and a complete set of 101 costume designs. Unlike today, each costume depicted a unique character designed specifically for the person who wore it. Of that number, 16 float designs and 38 costume designs have been chosen for display.
In addition to being beautiful works of art in their own right, the designs are heavily used by researchers in a variety of fields, including present-day Carnival designers, float builders, business people, historians and sociologists. The Louisiana Research Collection preserves one of the largest Carnival collections in the world, including roughly 5,600 original designs, all of which are available online through the Louisiana Digital Library. With all of the designs viewable online, the collection restricts access to the delicate originals for preservation purposes, so this is a rare opportunity to see the original works on paper, according to Miller.
The Special Collections Gallery, Jones Hall Room 201, is open Monday-Friday, 10a.m.–5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public. For information, call 504-314-7833.
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org