The Rex Den
The Rex Den
Creating each year's Rex Procession is a creative and technical process from the design sketches to the finished floats. Every Rex Parade is a new creation, from theme to float design to costuming of float riders. While there are several "permanent" floats (Rex's Float, the Boeuf Gras, the Butterfly King, the Title Float, the Royal Barge, the Royal Bandwagon, and the Streetcar Named Desire) the rest of the floats are designed and rebuilt each year to illustrate a new theme.
Themes for the Rex Procession are chosen years in advance to allow plenty of time for developing float designs. Historically these themes have been selected from the worlds of literature, art, mythology, history, and ancient cultures. Some are drawn from far away worlds, while others explore more fanciful possibilities as in "Spirits of Spring," the theme of the 2009 Rex parade.
Once the theme and individual float titles are selected, artists must design and prepare sketches from which the floats can be constructed. Designs progress from simple conceptual sketches to elaborate representations of colorfully decorated floats. Surviving sketches from the "Golden Age" of Rex Parades are pure works of art. The 2006 Rex Parade, "Beaux Arts and Letters" celebrated two of those artists-Louis Fischer and Bror Anders Wikstrom.
Float Design - Today
Today's parades are designed in much the same way, under the direction of Rex's Artistic Director, Henri Schindler. Rough designs are sketched on outlines of the basic structures of individual floats, and these designs are then refined and developed into full colored illustrations which will guide the construction of the individual floats.
Wagons and Wheels
In the early days of Carnival, floats were constructed on cotton wagons, and were pulled by mule teams. Years ago mules gave way to tractors, but the undercarriages of most Rex floats are quite similar to the cotton wagons of old, with sturdy wooden chassis and traditional wooden-spoked, iron-rimmed wheels. These sturdy wheels impart a lovely motion to the float as it is slowly pulled down the parade route.
Float Construction-The Beginning
When the Rex floats return to the den after their appearance on Mardi Gras, they will be stripped of all their decorations and painted with heavy white paint. There they remain, waiting in the den for their new life in the next Rex Procession. Before they leave the den again they will receive a new title, new paint, new "props," and take their place in a new parade.
The bare white float forms become canvases for float artists, who use the artist's sketches to guide the addition of swaths of background color, followed by more detailed design elements.
Figures illustrating the float title are the focal points of each float in the Rex Parade. These "props" are created individually, using traditional materials such as papier mache, and are then carefully mounted onto the float. Some floats may have several "props."
An enduring tradition of the decoration of Rex floats is the use of highly stylized flowers. These are created by hand, using techniques and materials which have barely changed since the first Rex parades rolled more than a century ago. These paper and wire creations are painted, trimmed with gold or silver foil, and fastened to the float, where they add color and a lovely element of movement to the parade.
Ready to Leave the Den
Mardi Gras morning, and the Rex Procession is ready to leave the den. Another delighted Mardi Gras crowd will gather beads and doubloons and cheer the passing floats. Mardi Gras afternoon the floats will return to the den to be stripped of their decorations, and readied for their transformation into next year's new and exciting parade.