Exhibits that have ranged from the history of aviation in Louisiana to the coffee trade at the Port of New Orleans to the evening wear of the city's boulevardiers. Now, with "Mardi Gras: It's Carnival Time in Louisiana," the Presbytere has created an installation that explores this Louisiana tradition in all its facets.
The Mardi Gras exhibit has been arranged around five major themes - History, Masking, Parades, Balls, and Courir du Mardi Gras - with several galleries including, but not limited to - one for Masking, another for Parades, and a final one for Courir du Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the last Tuesday before Lent. Of course, Lent is the forty-day period of fasting and penitence that precedes the celebration of Easter. Naturally enough, the days and weeks before this solemn, holy and subdued observance often took on a wild, raucous air.
Starting in the late 1700s, street processions and masked balls had become New Orleans institutions. The Mistick Krewe of Comus was the first of the famous "krewes" to hold a street parade and masquerade ball, and so began a tradition that over the years has expanded to include dozens of krewes, parades and parties.
The Presbytere's exhibit has several extremely rare artifacts from the early days of the Krewe, including a feathered duck helmet from 1908 and a parure (set of jewelry) from 1893.
While the Krewe of Comus held their parades at night, by torchlight, the Rex Organization held theirs during the day. They also began naming their "monarchs" the King and Queen of Carnival, as continues today. These first Rex balls and parades are brought back to life by displays of the costumes and jewelry used during the 1800s.
"Masking" is more than just the masked costumes revelers wear during Mardi Gras - it's the total transformation that's expected to overtake participants as they shed their normal work-a-day lives and join in the socially-sanctioned insanity of Carnival.
Probably the most famous - and infamous - aspect of Mardi Gras is the parades. Initially formed of unorganized maskers who happened to be in the streets, then structured by the Krewe of Comus and others, these now form the framework of Mardi Gras.
Giant, spectacular and themed, Mardi Gras floats are an unforgettable sight. The krewes compete to come up with the most eye-catching designs, the most outlandish themes, and then parade them through the streets while costumed crazies toss out "throws," the trinkets, coins and, especially, beads that have become so highly prized to Mardi Gras visitors.
At the Parades gallery visitors to the Presbytere can climb aboard an interactive display float created by Blaine Kern, master of the craft.
Masquerade balls have been a feature of Mardi Gras since the beginning, and have only gotten more diverse and extravagant over time. Some are formal, some not; many are exclusive to members, while others are open to whoever walks by.
You'll find many examples of ball-costumes at the Presbytere's Mardi Gras installation, from formal gowns and tiara's to crazy and fantastic creations that defy description.
Courir du Mardi Gras, or the Mardi Gras Run, derives its name from the traditional quest for ingredients for a community gumbo practiced in a number of communities in rural Louisiana.
With "Mardi Gras: It's Carnival Time in Louisiana," the Presbytere has installed an exhibit that succeeds on many levels - it's a celebration of New Orleans' singular Mardi Gras festival, an acknowledgement and record of a interesting facet of rural Louisiana, and it's a tribute to an institution that reveres the history of the Crescent City.
"Mardi Gras: It's Carnival Time in Louisiana" is a permanent exhibit of the State Museum.