Walk into Angee Jackson’s shop Miette (2038 Magazine St.), and you’ll find a funky art boutique packed with the work of local artisans. But beyond those works, the walls and ceilings are particularly eye-catching, covered with paper flowers that look strangely familiar.
That’s because those colorful blossoms adorn many of the city’s favorite Mardi Gras floats. Jackson has teamed up with a group of Mardi Gras artists, who call themselves the Carnival Collective, to let Mardi Gras enthusiasts take home something more than a handful of beads and trinkets.
The collective consists of Thomas Randolph Morrison, Dana Beuhler, Brian Bush and Caroline Thomas.
“I kept staring at my store and thinking, ‘This looks kind of boring,’ ” said Angee — who also owns Mojo Coffee House — but then she pointed at the ceiling. “With all the architecture in the city, that’s mine. Now I have something that stands out different and people come in and ask questions.”
As she notes, few people can name the artists who contribute to the holiday that defines New Orleans. It’s an important season for artists and the city’s residents alike.
“Mardi Gras is the largest free public art event in the country,” said Morrison, who is the art director behind Krewe of Pygmalion. “It’s also a rare opportunity to contribute to the artistic process and bring art to the street.”
The desire is for onlookers to shift their focus slightly, from the trinkets coming off the floats to the art that adorns them.
“There’s so much to look at at Mardi Gras, and with all the parades moving by so fast, sometimes you don’t have the time to stop and admire the work that went into it,” said Thomas, who works on Proteus, Krewe d’Etat and Chaos. “Showing stuff at Angee’s shop is a great step toward educating people and making them aware that we’re out here.”
Buehler, who works on Pygmalion and travels to Houston every year to work on their Thanksgiving parade, agreed.
“It’s a way for us to introduce ourselves to the city because I don’t think people really know who’s building Mardi Gras,” she said. “They know the designers, sometimes they know the building companies, but they never really know the artist. It’s nice to have a means to do that.”
The artists talk about keeping the parade culture alive, reminiscing about the late 18th-century floats — a “golden age of Mardi Gras.”
Creating one day of glory takes a whole year, the artists said. That includes hot summers standing on ladders in metal warehouses that lack air-conditioning while blending colors on palettes, slowly sculpting figures and building intricate lighting displays.
For the flowers, they start by stacking special paper, like poster board, and cutting them into shapes on a band saw.
Then they sandwich wire between two pieces of paper and glue them, giving it slight flexibility so that it can be shaped. Then they are painted; some within the group prefering spray guns while others use brushwork. At times, they do both, pulling the image of the final product from their imaginations or pictures of local flowers.
For now, the flowers are the focus of the collective and Miette is buying them from the artists outright. The smallest flowers — about a foot in diameter — go for $40, while the largest are priced at $400.
Though the flowers provide the artists another stream of revenue, they also allow for a certain level of collaboration — another benefit of their collective.
“It’s really nice to talk shop with these other artists and support each other,” Thomas said. “I’ve already noticed a lot of trading tips and making work inspired by another person’s work. Hopefully, that will happen more and more, so we can all become better artists by working side-by-side.”