A Look at Carnival’s ‘Golden Age’: World’s Largest Collection of Pre-WWII Carnival Designs

See the largest Carnival collection of original float and costume designs from the "Golden Age."

One unique collection of historic designs from early Mardi Gras krewes showcases beautiful works of art from Carnival’s “Golden Age.” The Louisiana Research Collection at Tulane University features more than 5,500 original float and costume designs — the world’s largest pre-WWII collection.

The archive at the Louisiana Research Collection represents more than two hundred krewes and spans the founding of Carnival in New Orleans to the present. Most of the designs are from Carnival’s “Golden Age,” the 1870s through the 1940s, with about three hundred designs from 1950 to 1970.

Leon Miller, head of the Louisiana Research Collection, gave us a peek at the archive which shows just how the creativity of Carnival has spanned generations.

“The materials in the Carnival collection are stunningly beautiful — the highest forms of printing, the highest forms of watercolor, incredible imagination,” Miller said.

A majority of the designs are from the krewes of Comus and Proteus. Rex and Momus are also represented in the collection. The archive features artwork from many of Carnival’s most noted designers, including Jennie Wilde, Bror Anders Wikstrom, and Charles Briton.

The Carnival Collection is available for in-person viewing at the Schiro Reading Room located on Tulane University’s Uptown campus in Jones Hall, Room 202. The collection can also be viewed online through Tulane University’s Digital Library or via Facebook.

Miller says a significant group of their Carnival materials are currently on loan to the New Orleans Museum of Art for an exhibit. Guests can see “Bror Anders Wikstrom: Bringing Fantasy to Carnival” at NOMA until April 1. This is a very rare opportunity to see every float design from a single parade. The exhibit features a full set of twenty float plates from the Krewe of Proteus 1904 “The Alphabet” parade to the museum.

“I’ve been saying for years that a museum should display one complete year of float designs and all of the costume designs that go with them, and this is the first time a museum has, at least partially, taken me up on it,” Miller said.

For more information or to see the online collection, visit the website.