Rex themed floats: Mardi Gras masterpieces with a short lifespan

New Orleans - Author Perry Young is credited with saying, "Carnival is a butterfly of winter, whose last mad flight of Mardi Gras forever ends his glory."

Krewe of Rex Historian and Archivist Dr. Stephen Hales, who reigned as Rex 2017, agrees that  it's a fitting description for many reasons.

Butterflies have a short lifespan, as does Carnival; and the life of many floats is even shorter!

When it comes to Rex floats, signature symbols such as the Boeuf Gras and the Butterfly King are carefully stored and secured for their annual appearances.

But when it comes to the organization's themed floats, most only see the light of day for the few hours of the parade, then they are deconstructed, and completely redone for the following year's procession.

"It all comes together; the very last thing that happens is applying the gold and silver leaf," says Dr. Stephen Hales, Rex 2017 and Krewe of Rex historian and archivist.

The creative minds that build what rolls on Fat Tuesday are preserving a 19th-century art form called "tableau art."

"The Mistick Krewe of Comus, starting in 1857, put those tableau on cotton wagons and rolling tableau became an art form that just became very popular and really defined how we make our parades, even today," explains Dr. Hales.

"Not all organizations do this but we still do it that way," says Dr. Hales. "In terms of putting a whole parade together around that art form, I think if we didn't originate it here, we certainly took it to a whole new level."

More symbolism: The Boeuf Gras float rolls near the start of the Rex parade and is a colorful reminder of the authentic meaning of Mardi Gras.

"This symbol connects us back to centuries and centuries and centuries ago.  Celebrations like this have been going on for that long and it arrived in New Orleans in our very beginning times and we've continued it ever since," says Dr. Hales.

"Without that symbol you kind of scratch your head and say 'Wait, is this just another parade? No, this is Mardi Gras, this is Carnival, this is New Orleans."

And this is Rex, the Krewe at the heart of Carnival.

The Rex Den is essentially and art gallery during Carnival season, and parades of school children are welcomed inside to learn about the history of Rex and its role in New Orleans' history.

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