LSU Libraries Special Collections Restores Historic Mardi Gras Scrapbook

By Christine Wendling and Brooke Bell

Mardi Gras Traditions

During the past 300 years of Mardi Gras’ existence, certain customs have crystallized within the communities in and surrounding New Orleans. For example, krewes (pronounced “crews”) are social organizations that orchestrate Mardi Gras parades and their decadent parade floats. As part of the Carnival season, krewes typically throw Mardi Gras balls – a formal celebration for members and their guests. Throughout their history, invitations to these balls have been highly coveted. Although many of these historic invitations have been lost to time or natural disasters, some of these unique and colorful invitations have been preserved by LSU Libraries Special Collections.

LSU Libraries Special Collections is restoring a historic Mardi Gras scrapbook that provides unique insight into Louisiana’s history and culture through the perspective of the individual who collected and curated its contents. The scrapbook, which was acquired in the 1950s, is dated circa 1871-1907 and contains materials relating to local New Orleans attractions and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, including invitations to balls, event programs, holiday cards and clippings.

At the time of its acquisition, no information was recorded about the owner or the origins of the scrapbook. However, LSU Libraries Special Collections conservation coordinator, Caroline Ziegler, suspects that it may have belonged to a high-society woman from the New Orleans area based on the inclusion of a doily preserved from a wedding bouquet, indicating the owner was a member of a bridal party, and the nature of the item itself—scrapbooks were a popular pastime for women during the Victorian Era.

According to Darius Spieth, an art history professor at LSU’s College of Art & Design, “Someone surely bought it as a blank book and then someone glued the invitations and paraphernalia into it, making it a very personal memory of these events. It’s very eclectic and combines different references to cultures and places in the world.”

The scrapbook contains colorful, chromolithographic Mardi Gras invitations in a variety of shapes that often unfold into larger images or feature elaborate moving parts. Many of the invitations evoke a sense of wonder due to the vivid colors, whimsical designs, different yearly themes, and references to literature or mythology. Perhaps for this reason, the scrapbook is popular among LSU professors who use it for instructional purposes. Frequently, it is used by LSU classes visiting Hill Memorial Library to learn more about Special Collections’ materials.

“When you look at these invitations and these prints, they continue to speak to us today. The floats are gone, but we still have the invites, and the invites allow us to conjure up in our minds how the floats would have looked and how the costumes would’ve looked. There is a certain pleasure in beholding these objects that is a reward in its own right,” Spieth said.

Unfortunately, after years of viewings, the scrapbook’s condition deteriorated to the point where it could no longer be displayed. In response, Ziegler consulted with the manuscripts team, and they decided the effort was warranted to preserve and restore the one-of-a-kind treasure. As a conservator, Ziegler helps preserve the paper and book items at LSU Libraries. Some of her responsibilities include creating custom housing for unusual pieces, stabilizing fragile materials so that they can be handled by patrons and staff, and conducting training in proper handling techniques. Her background in artists’ books and printmaking also aided her in the project.

“We are taking all of the materials off of their acidic pages and we’re cleaning them. Then, we’re going to create new pages and reuse the covers of the scrapbook to build a new scrapbook that has a similar feel to the current one. That way, it’s not just all these loose things that don’t have any context. You still get the experience of looking through somebody’s curated scrapbook,” Ziegler said.

In restoring the Mardi Gras scrapbook, LSU Libraries Special Collections is not only preserving a unique artifact of Louisiana’s history and culture but also allowing future generations to experience the joy and wonder of Mardi Gras celebrations past.

 

Additional Information:

This item is available to be viewed in person at LSU’s Hill Memorial Library. To schedule a viewing or learn more about LSU Libraries Special Collections, visit lib.lsu.edu/special.

View digitized images of the scrapbook via the Louisiana Digital Library. 

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