Wire screen masks and cone-shaped hats called capuchons are required attire for Courir de Mardi Gras, the annual chicken chases on horseback in Acadiana. These outfits have also made Georgie and Allen Manuel of Eunice renowned in art circles throughout Louisiana.
The Manuels display their traditional costumes during First Fridays with a Little Lagniappe, the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission’s new arts series. The demonstration is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, July 1 at the new St. Landry Parish Visitor Information Center on I-49 exit 23, just north of Opelousas.
According to the Louisiana Folklore Society, wire screen masks and capuchons have been part of Cajun Mardi Gras runs since the turn of the 20th century. Georgie Manuel recalls her late grandmother, Alma McGee, making costumes as part of her seamstress business.
McGee’s masks and capuchons were made without patterns. She could not read or write and the only available patterns were printed in English.
Allen’s parents were both participants in the local Mardi Gras. After Georgie and Allen married in 1974, they remained active participants and even saved some of the rare screen masks from the 1950s.
Those masks and memories became templates for their future costumes, which have become the Mardi Gras gear of choice in Eunice in surrounding area. Then Manuels have exhibited their work at the Louisiana Native Crafts Festival, part of Festival Acadiens, the Louisiana Folklife Festival in Eunice, Shreveport’s Red River Revel and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. One of their masks is on permanent display at the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center in Eunice.
Admission is free to the First Fridays series, which continues July 15 with fiddle maker and musician Anya Burgess of Arnaudville. Other St. Landry Parish artists scheduled to participate include:
· Aug. 5 – The Art of Debris: Mixed Media, Art Created from Found Objects with Trish Ransom and Michelle Fontenot
· Aug. 19 – The Art of Mixed Media, with George Marks and hand-sculpted clay from Annie Hendrix
· Sept. 2 – A Celebration of Creole Culture with Rebecca Henry’s native crafts and painter Jerome Ford
· Sept. 16 – A Piece of Art is Worth a Thousand Words with former Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque and Patrice Melnick
The First Fridays with a Little Lagniappe series is held at the new St. Landry Parish Visitor Information Center, a state-certified welcome center that promotes environmentally-friendly construction and sustainable practices, both old and new.
First Fridays with a Little Lagniappe is supported in part by a Grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council as administered by the Acadiana Arts Council.
For more information, call the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission at (337) 948-8004. Follow the center on Twitter @StLandryParish or on Facebook at St. Landry Parish – It’s Gumbo for Your Soul.