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    Follow the Stories | Mobile, Alabama (2007)

    Mardi Gras in Mobile


    • Jan from Mobile brought in a collection of colorful and amusing watercolor paintings that she said have been in her husband's family for years.

    • Created in the early 19th century by French artist Jules Maré, the paintings are actually costume designs done for the Cowbellion de Rakin Society of Mobile, in preparation for their 1837 Mardi Gras celebration.

    • Founded in Mobile in 1830 by a few Mardi Gras enthusiasts with a taste for mischief, the Cowbellion de Rakin Society is often credited with organizing the first Mardi Gras street procession with masks and wheeled floats.

    • Beneath the costume designs themselves appear the handwritten names of the characters that the paintings depict. This one is labeled "Count of Bologne."

    • Along with New Orleans, Mobile was the site of some of the very earliest Mardi Gras celebrations in America — beginning, by some accounts, in 1703.

    • The back of the designs bear handwritten reference numbers for the costumes and measurements for the people who were to wear them, as well as a more recent, printed statement about the artist and the Cowbellion Society.

    • Of Jan's collection of four paintings only two are framed. While their condition is still good, Fesko noted that the paintings do show some foxing and stains. She recommended that all four should be re-matted and framed to better preserve them.

    • Fesko explained that the market in custom costume designs is very specialized, but that Jan's paintings constitute a unique set with a remarkable history.
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