When Simone Bruni Crouere, owner of Demo Diva, prepared to tear down the flooded OPA Graphics building on Earhart Boulevard in 2009, one of the prints inside caught her eye.
Among the warped and washed-out images littering the building, Crouere spotted a flawless portrait of a medieval soldier brandishing a shield, emblazoned with yellow fleurs-de-lis.
Right away, Crouere recognized the soldier as Joan of Arc.
“I feel like I’m Joan of Arc,” said Crouere, whose demolition company rose to success after Hurricane Katrina. “I’m a woman in a man’s world.”
The print still hangs in her office.
Crouere’s connection to Joan of Arc deepened when she met Amy Kirk, the krewe captain and founder of the Joan of Arc Project, and Kirk invited the entrepreneur to participate in Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc.
“What they are now trying to do is be a voice for women,” Crouere said.
The Demo Diva will portray Queen Yolande, while Patrick Van Hoorebeek, owner and founder of Patrick’s Bar Vin, represents King Charles VII, in the krewe’s annual walking parade Jan. 6.
The candlelit procession, which takes place in the French Quarter, honors the 603rd anniversary of Joan’s birth and celebrates Twelfth Night.
Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, liberated the citizens of Orleans, France, from a British siege in 1429. Captured by the English, she was burned at the stake in 1431. She was just 19. Joan was canonized as a saint in 1920.
A golden statue of St. Joan, a gift to the city of New Orleans from France, stands in the French Market.
“The parade is a throwback to our French roots here in New Orleans,” Crouere said. Throughout the medieval-themed pageant, Crouere will distribute gilded Demo Diva garden shovels.
Other clever throws — or handouts, rather — include Venetian-style masks, saint medallions and prayer cards.
Paradegoers also will receive a candle and, in turn, become part of the pageant. But the most coveted items are the 16 embellished wooden swords, which will be presented by this year’s Maid, Emma Martello, of Louise S. McGehee School.
“We don’t use beads at all. And we try to stay away from purchased throws, unless they match the theme,” said Antoinette de Alteriis, the costume director.
Clothing ensembles for those in the parade must fit the medieval motif.
De Alteriis explained that most of the mementos and costumes are made by krewe members during workshops throughout the year. The first gathering takes place about two weeks after the parade.
“We decide what was missing, what parts of the parade need more color and what things inspired people,” de Alteriis said. “A lot of times, we get inspiration from the crowd.”
Pinterest, the popular social networking site for craft ideas, also has come in handy.
The theatrical parade, which reveals Joan’s life, section by section, is full of large visual elements, such as the instrument of torture called a St. Catherine’s wheel, a dragon in honor of St. Margaret, believed to be a dragon-slayer, and a massive puppet that represents the infamous Bishop Cauchon, who has been held responsible for Joan’s condemnation.
Many of the props were created by Amanda Helm, the membership director who portrays the Archangel Michael, during the parade.
“I feel like we’ve come full circle, where everyone who joins has a sense of appreciation for Joan’s real history and also brings to the table their own personal interests,” said Kirk, who launched the parade in 2008. “There’s more of a commitment to telling Joan’s story.”
This year’s parade features an extended route that spans several blocks of Chartres Street and Decatur.
The procession will pause for toasts from the Historic New Orleans Collection and Grégor Trumel, consul general of France in New Orleans, and for a sword blessing at the St. Louis Cathedral.
The parade ends at the amphitheater across from Jackson Square, which can accommodate a substantial crowd, for the crowning of the king and a king cake ceremony.
Attendees are encouraged to wear gold, bring a king cake and follow the procession to the amphitheater for Joan’s birthday celebration.
“We’re very welcoming of everyone out there,” de Alteriis said of the family-friendly event. “We love to see people in costume on the sidelines.”