Rodrigue’s Cajun Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is not just about New Orleans.  Cities like Mobile, AL, Galveston, TX and my hometown of Fort Walton Beach, FL also celebrate.  In Louisiana, dozens of small towns host Mardi Gras parades and celebrations every year.

Long before his Mardi Gras posters, George Rodrigue painted the tradition on his own, recording favorite stories and focusing on Cajun towns.  For example, he loves the history of Mr. Butcher of Lafayette, who famously dressed every year in costume during the 1940s while everyone else wore suits to the parades.

-click photos throughout to enlarge-

“It’s hard to imagine today,” says George, “but people wore business and even formal attire on the streets.  No one but the riders costumed in those days.

“Butcher’s son showed me terrific photos of his dad dressed as a harlequin amidst the conservative crowd.  I liked the idea so much that I painted him three ways within one painting.” (1978, pictured above)

In Mamou, paraders ride horses in a group, moving from farm to farm collecting chickens.  At the end, the chickens end up in a huge gumbo for the crowds.

(pictured, Mardi Gras in Mamou, 1985 by George Rodrigue)

“Although I represented Mardi Gras in my paintings,” explains George, “it was several years before I did a poster.   Lafayette Mardi Gras krewes asked if I would illustrate their themes.  

“One of the earliest I remember was Broadway Shows.  It turned out to be very successful, because all of the krewe members bought posters.  Also, the local people preferred it to my regular Cajun paintings because of the bright colors.”

From this success, George went on to produce posters not only for Mardi Gras, but also for festivals and events such as the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the National Sports Festival, Ducks Unlimited, and Festivals Acadiens.

“Eventually, it seems like everyone came calling,” sighs George. 

He designed posters for medical organizations, the New Orleans Opera, Shreveport’s Red River Revel, the official Clinton/Gore inauguration poster, three posters for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and even Blue Dog at the Golden Gate for the Little Sisters of the Poor in San Francisco.

Today, however, because we raise funds for the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA)…

“I no longer make festival and event posters.  Instead I implemented a Print Donation Program, beginning with Blue Dog Relief following 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.  It’s been extremely successful in recent years, funding scholarships, art supplies for schools, art therapy, and other GRFA programs, as well as raising millions of dollars for other non-profits.” (details here-)

And to think, it all started with George’s Cajun Mardi Gras posters.

Founded in 1947 by the Cenac Family, Houma boasts the second largest Mardi Gras in Louisiana.  Wayne Fernandez, Director of Development for the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, recalls his father as King in 1958:

“Houma borrowed the floats from the Krewe of Okeanos in New Orleans and shipped them on a river barge between the cities.  It was magical.”

George Rodrigue’s hometown of New Iberia called its Mardi Gras a “Carnival Dance.”  There was no parade until recent years, celebrated instead with a pageant.

(pictured, George Rodrigue with his cousin Arlene, dressed for New Iberia’s “Carnival Dance,” 1950)

Also unlike today, parades took varying routes.  Mike Evans of Gretna recalls his favorite parade, Poseidon:

“It traveled on the Westbank from Gretna to Westwego on 4th Street, on the Mississippi River at the levee.  My mom lived on Pailet Street and had a party every year – gumbo, hot dogs and chili.  The neighbors gathered, and it was the one time each year that I returned from college and saw everybody.  I miss those days!”

As a child I loved the Grela parade, a favorite in the small communities of Algiers, Gretna, and Belle Chasse on the New Orleans Westbank.  With my cousins, we waited on the curb for the parade, eating crawfish from a cooler by 8:00 a.m. before moving on to tamales for lunch. 

I dreamed but never imagined that I would one day ride on a Mardi Gras float.  And yet for the past decade, I’ve ridden in New Orleans with the all-female Krewe of Muses.  It’s not Cajun, but plenty of Cajuns ride, such as Cindy Cenac of Houma, pictured with me below for this year’s wondrous parade.


-related stories:
         Blue Dog Mardi Gras Silkscreens

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7 thoughts on “Rodrigue’s Cajun Mardi Gras

  1. So many Mardis-Gras, so much history, but even your glorious rubber ducky doesn't come close to the all-time best image. And somehow it's not captured, except in the imagination. Chickens in Mamou. Oh, I can see the painting, Chickens in Mamou.

  2. This is one of the best! I love it. The photo of George is beyond adorable. My introduction to Mardi Gras was by my eldest sister, Deanna, who moved to Metarie in 1960. I was 9. She took us to the Katz & Bestoff on Napolean and Canal for ice cream floats before the big parades came by. Marion & I continued New Orleans Mardi Gras for years tucking safely inside the City Park home of Joe Segreta. We did enjoy a few Washington Mardi Gras Balls. Strange how I do not recall nor did I ever participate in small hometown Mardi Gras. The Joubert's of Eunice who open their glorious home each Mardi Gras introduced Marion & I to the fun of small town parades and also my sister Mona Cart's hometown of Iota became a favorite for our family.

  3. I absolutely love the history. It's funny- while I've seen all of these Mardi Gras paintings, I never knew their exact origins.

  4. Mr Butcher, or Grampy, was my wonderful grandfather. I am the eldest child of his youngest child. I think one of my uncles has this original, but I would love to buy a print for myself and each of my 6 siblings. Can you contact me to let me know where I could purchase these?

  5. Hi Debbie- Unfortunately there were no prints made of the Butcher piece; but we did borrow the original painting from your uncle for the Rodrigue retrospective at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2008. It was a wonderful addition to this 45-year show of paintings and was a highlight of the Cajun section of the exhibition. People loved the story and imagery of your "Grampy!"

    A number of the other Mardi Gras pieces featured in this post are available as posters/prints. For details email or call the Rodrigue Gallery at 504-581-4244.

    Many thanks for writing in-
    And Happy Mardi Gras!

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