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Natchez native documents exuberant New Orleans Mardi Gras house floats

Natchez native Will Smith Jr., a professional artist living in New Orleans, is at the center of that city’s effort to celebrate Mardi Gras during the time of COVID and support artists who need work at the same time.

Smith, the son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Marion (Carolyn Vance) Smith of Natchez, said the charitable effort to help artists began when traditional Mardi Gras parades were canceled in New Orleans and the Royal Artists, who typically designed floats for major Mardi Gras parades, like Rex, were left unemployed.

“Devin DeWulf, captain of the Krewe of Red Beans, which has always been a charitable organization, heard about the Hire a Mardi Gras Artist program and joined it,” Smith said. The artists are now using their skills to decorate New Orleans houses as “house floats.”

“Krewe of Red Beans had been feeding musicians and health care workers, the two groups partnered with each other,” Smith said.

One of Smith’s friends, Angee Estevez, who owns Miette, a boutique shop in New Orleans, volunteered her home as one to be decorated.

As a gift, Smith painted a watercolor pen and ink of her house, which was decorated as The Night Tripper as a tribute to the late New Orleans musician Dr. John.

Soon after — “like within an hour,” Smith said — he was asked to chronicle and document all of the houses that are participating in the Mardi Gras House Float event.

“We will have a show at the Contemporary Arts Center in the Arts District sometime toward the end of March,” he said. “They are still installing some of the house floats and some of them won’t be able to be completed by Mardi Gras.

“It has been a wildly successful mad scramble to get as much done a possible. The public support has been enormous. The Wall Street Journal and several major news networks have covered the creative ways New Orleans is responded to Mardi Gras during COVID. This is that solution.”

The Times-Picayune typically publishes a Carnival edition, which highlights photos of floats from parades lined up in order. This year, Smith’s artwork will be used to illustrate the Mardi Gras House Floats.

Smith’s art — originals as well as prints — will be available for purchase eventually at Miette, 2038 Magazine St., New Orleans or by contacting the Krewe of Red Beans at redbeansparade.com.

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