Archive for August, 2019

New Orleans. I knew I’d get to it eventually.

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

In February (yeah I’m aware it’s August, hush your judgmental self) I went to New Orleans to take a surface beading class where I did precisely no surface beading whatsoever. It’s where I worked on St. George. Snorth and her husband Speeb and I made a trip of it. While the class was only three days we went there for five because it’s important to see as much as possible. New Orleans continues to be one of my favorite destinations in America. I have a list.

– They have no snow. That means no slippy slidey slushy sadness. Yes, it’s oppressively hot and muggy but you know what I’m not going to do in that muggery? Get betrayed by physics and gravity and have my feet shoot out from under me, potentially damaging my body and definitely damaging my mental state. Ain’t nobody need that.

– You like making props and costumes? All year. They do it all year. There’s not only Mardi Gras, there’s also some big party at Halloween. People makes bikes with critters on them (more on that later). They make carts with musical instruments and all manner of flashing blinking whatnot and roll it around the neighborhoods for no reason. When Snorth and I went to the major float provider I found out they do sets for shows and brands and really anyone who needs something, not only Mardi Gras. They’re busy all year round. I asked what it takes to work there and I seriously considered quitting my job and going down there to live my best life but decided against it because it’s wildly reckless and very unrealistic. But I’m still thinking about it. Secretly. In the back of my mind.

– The people. The people there love their ugly folk. I don’t mean it’s a city entirely comprised of trolls and sewer-dwellers. It’s that in New York there’s a ton of high fashion and models and that’s valued and important. Chanel and Versace and Prada and Fashion Week. In New Orleans there’s no Prada and there’s no supermodels. Regular people leading regular lives. Wearing what they want. All the beautiful people I saw weren’t being pretentious, they were dressed in super-cool clothes and clearly unconcerned with people’s perception of them. It seems that your story-telling or music or art you make is more valuable than your appearance. Appearance still matters in New Orleans, it’s just not the top of the list. Quite the breath of fresh air.

I’ve been to New Orleans before and blogged about it (see here) so I’m going to do a very truncated version.

The class was offered in the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture and I learned quite a bit. For example it is not uncommon for someone participating in the parade to wear elements of their career in their costume. The woman wearing this was a nurse, hence the syringe and the stethoscope and the caduceus.

 

The museum had the nutria bike I’d seen previously, I was super-psyched to meet it in person as you can imagine. His name is Napoleon and his whiskers are zip ties.

Some of the other notable items in the museum: The Erté dress with the dog made from a lawn holiday decoration of a reindeer on wheels.

There was the mannequin with a large, concerning lump on his neck.

There was a beaded patch that caught my eye. Often these beaded elements are roughly sketched out and the creators are more concerned with conveying a message than intricate technique. This patch is a portrait and it is a very good representation of Big Freedia. Big Freedia is called the Queen of Bounce which is a style of dance music that I have difficulty listening to. But I find Big Freedia a delightful person and I love her fashion choices. She’s a killer and she works hard.

In the back was a metal skirt that women wear at giant balls and parties. The rings hold champagne glasses and the wearer glides around the floor where you can pick up champagne from her.

That was fine. What was NOT fine was what was perched on top of one of those skirts. I walked to the back of the museum only to be confronted by the most nightmarish thing ever: a papier-maché crawfish (an already rough-lookin’ critter) but gigantor and falling apart. It was broad daylight in a well-lit room and I still shrieked like it had snuck up on me. Look at the skirt for scale.

Huge. In my face. Nightmares. Greeting me. Every morning.

During the class we got meet one of the premier beaders of New Orleans, Demond Melancon. He went from being a dishwasher in local hotels to having his work shown in museums and sold in galleries. Demond makes crazy complex costumes which are used for battling. Instead of battling with knives and guns, two people wearing these kinds of costumes go up to each other and display off the stories they have been working on for that year. There are all those layers so when you think you’ve seen it all the wearer pulls a panel away and paplow! Another panel. You slide an arm flap and there’s a whole different section you hadn’t noticed. If you know how heavy glass beads are you can only imagine how heavy this whole ensemble is. I think showing dominance over others in non-violent ways and using talent and storytelling skills is awesome so keep it up, everyone. One of my favorite things is the beaders brag about how small the beads they use are. The smaller the beads, the more detail, the more time invested, the more skill. The higher the number the smaller the bead. So while everybody else is using 6s and 8s, Demond is out there yelling “10s and 11s! You hear me? 10s and 11s!” Every so often I’ll talk to Snorth and I’ll say, “10s and 11s! Look at it! 10s and 11s!”

We went to Demond’s studio which is a large artist’s collective in a big warehouse. Outside his door is the studio of the people who made Napoleon the Nutria bike. I got very excited.

Since Demond (and his wife, the unsung hero of his success, she needs accolades for her work) do such large projects there’s an ingenious solution to get beading done on such a large scale. They get old dining room tables, take the tops off and staple-gun the thick cotton or linen to the table edges. That way they can draw with markers on this taut surface and see underneath when they’re beading. They had a table off to the side with only the marker drawing on it.

Here’s a video where you can see his studio and some of his work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrG8xgZCwTo

Snorth and I went back to my happy place which was Mardi Gras World where the floats are made. I’ve already covered this place (glorious bliss heaven) but there were some cool new things I thought I’d address.

Look at this excellent painting job! These coins are really great.

I’m glad someone is repairing the giant snail. The snail deserves only the best.

In order to cut down on foam carving time for non-Mardi Gras-related items (like a recent project the Chik-Fil-A cow) they have a computerized carving machine. It’s huge, it takes up a whole room. Which is why most people might not notice the Buddha off in the corner with the DJ Deadmaus’ signature head on it. But I did. I noticed.

They had the usual pile of randomness. Some I took because of the incongruity of one piece next to another. Some I took because of the excellent painting or carving. Some because their expression is hilarious.

Two other New Orleans sights that I want to address – the shoes I would have killed for at 10 years old (wouldn’t mind them now either):

And the Squirrel Carousel. It lit up. It spun. I wanted it. It was $4000. I did not buy it. I have regrets.