O’Neil paints Fantasi Faces for Mardi Gras

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 27, 2008

It may not be New Orleans, but Mardi Gras in Natchez is real too.

Carole O’Neil thinks so, and she should know.

O’Neil, a Baton Rouge resident who runs her own makeup business — Fantasi Faces — has been a part of the New Orleans version of Mardi Gras since 1984.

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She sets up shop at the Marriott Hotel in the French Quarter and paints face after face.

And about 16 years ago, she started doing the same thing in Natchez.

O’Neil has a nephew in town — Windell Weeden — and she came to a Natchez Mardi Gras ball with him.

“They said we had a parade here, and they said ‘come on,’” she said.

Sixteen years later, O’Neil had a long line forming at Bowie’s Tavern by 2 p.m. Friday, four hours before the Krewe of Alpheus parade was scheduled to begin.

She paints in glitter, mostly feathers around the eyes or fleur-de-lis on the cheek. But if you’d like, she’ll do a full face. Something called the Mask of Midnight is her most popular face art.

Many of her Natchez faces are repeat customers.

“It makes you feel beautiful for a night,” Leslie Keahey said as O’Neil filled her face with color.

Keahey is a part of the Krewe of Alpheus and was in line with most of the other krewe members.

“She’s been painting me for years,” she said.

Alphonse Coco was one of the few men in line Friday, and he too comes back year after year.

“It’s fun, and it’s different,” he said. “We are supposed to wear a mask to the parade and this counts. She does a good job and a quick job.”

O’Neil, who has a degree in education and a minor in art, got her start in the makeup world working for a man in New Orleans who started his own makeup company. First they sold their products, then they began painting faces.

“We were probably the first face painters in New Orleans,” she said. “First we painted ourselves, then people asked about it. That’s when he decided to go into makeup.”

She does makeup for TV and film, balls and Halloween or Mardi Gras themes. She considers herself a freelance makeup artist.

In Natchez, masks and eye designs cost $20. A full face is $25. The prices are higher in New Orleans.

O’Neil painted at the Corner Bar for years, before finding a new spot at Bowie’s. And she has painted for the Krewe of Phoenix parade before, but said she had not decided whether she’d come back for the Feb. 1 parade or not.