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Float designer and Carnival historian Henri Schindler 

PHOTO BY JOSEPHINE SACABO

Most people would not recognize Henri Schindler if they passed him on the street. But if these people attend Mardi Gras parades, they have seen his work.

Schindler has been enamored of Mardi Gras since his boyhood in Algiers. His early love of Carnival sparked a fascination that became a lifelong study. He is highly regarded among Carnival historians for his knowledge of the festival’s rich cultural legacy and its forgotten artists and float builders.

Not satisfied simply to study Carnival, for the past four decades he has been a major force in its creation and direction.

Schindler has been on a crusade to return floats to the grandeur of Carnival’s earlier days, when artistry was more important than throws.

As Mardi Gras documentarian Peggy Scott Laborde says, "Through his artistic input in Rex and other parades, Henri's efforts remind us of how the artistry of Carnival's past now informs the present. Henri has helped make floats rolling works of art instead of a vehicle that people ride on to merely throw stuff."

The parades he produced for the Mistick Krewe of Comus in the 1980s and early 1990s, before that group stopped parading, were acclaimed as a return to the Golden Age of Mardi Gras.

He has been artistic director of the Rex parade since 1992 and has designed parades for Orpheus, Krewe d’Etat, Babylon, Hermes and Endymion.

In addition to also staging balls for several of the city’s most eminent societies, Schindler is the author of seven books on the history and rich artistic legacy of Carnival. He has served as guest curator for Mardi Gras exhibitions at the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Louisiana State Museum, and from 1997 to 2012 he provided commentary on the annual WYES telecast of the Rex ball and the meeting of the courts of Rex and Comus.

In 1997 he produced the official Rex proclamation for the organization’s 125th anniversary. He played a key role in the birth of the Society of St. Anne, and in 1993 he served as king of Krewe du Vieux.

Schindler's books on Mardi Gras have earned a place on the shelf of any serious student of Carnival. His first book, "Mardi Gras New Orleans," was followed by the "Mardi Gras Treasures" series: four lavishly illustrated volumes starting in 2000 that focus on Mardi Gras float design, invitations, costume design and jewelry.

"No one has done more than Henri to share the history of Carnival and the beautiful artwork it inspires with 
a wide audience," notes Wayne Phillips, curator of Carnival collections at the Louisiana State Museum.

"His books in the 'Mardi Gras Treasures' series, and the companion exhibitions he curated for us in the Presbytere, are giving long overdue credit to Carnival's most talented early designers and helping the public realize that Carnival at its core is an artistic celebration. His own experience as a designer, combined with his exceptional writing skills and indefatigable study of Carnival history, places him in the perfect spot to honor the artists of the Golden Age and bring them out of anonymity."

In 2013 he became the first person in Carnival to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Orleans Arts Council.

Email Arthur Hardy at mardihardy@gmail.com.