The Louisiana State Museum, in partnership with the Krewes of Iris, Muses and Nyx, will present Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival, an exhibition commemorating the centennial of Iris and exploring the evolution of women’s krewes in New Orleans from the 1890s to the present. The exhibition opens to the public Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, at the Presbytère, 751 Chartres Street in New Orleans’ Jackson Square.
Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival features rare artifacts from the museum’s vast collection as well as from various lenders, including the earliest-known existing Iris queen’s dress, worn in 1941 by Irma Cazenave, wife of Count Arnaud Cazenave, on loan from Arnaud’s restaurant. This newly restored gown will be on display with five other costumes; two dozen original costume sketches from several krewes; rare photographs from the late 1800s and early 1900s; and ball favors, invitations and dance cards from the early 20th century.
“The Krewe of Iris boldly paved the way for other women’s krewes,” said Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser. “The tremendous surge in participation in Mardi Gras by women is a testament to their success. We wish the Iris the best of success for the next 100 years.”
Named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow, the Krewe of Iris is the oldest women’s carnival organization in New Orleans. At the time of its 1917 founding, men’s groups ruled Mardi Gras festivities, sponsoring all of the parades and most of the balls. But just as women campaigned for the vote and sought expanded roles in public life, they also carved out new social spaces. Iris built upon two decades of women’s efforts to create carnival organizations. The first full-scale women’s krewe, Les Mystérieuses, held its premier ball in 1896, attracting notice in the press, which pronounced the event “novel” and an “attractive social success.”
Pioneering groups like Les Mystérieuses and Iris transformed carnival for women. Over the course of the next century, more women’s krewes joined the fun, from numerous societies in the early 1900s to 21st century parading clubs, such as Muses, Nyx and Femme Fatale. Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival will offer a detailed overview of that history, highlighting the first women’s parade, held by the Krewe of Venus in 1941, and the now-forgotten krewes of years past, including the Mittens, the Mystic Maids, Empyreans, Titanians and more. Long-lived parading krewes such as Shangri-La, Rhea and Cleopatra will provide another important part of the chronicle of women and carnival.
Original tableau ball artworks executed by Spangenberg Studios; paintings inspired by the Iris, Muses and Nyx parades; and the very first Muses shoe from their inaugural 2001 parade will make this exhibition sparkle with the spirit of the many women’s krewes that have left their mark on carnival history.
Open through December 2018, Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival is part of the Women of New Orleans: Builders and Rebuilders exhibition initiative of the nonprofit Nola4Women, launched in honor of New Orleans’s tricentennial. Visit nola4women.org for more information. Visit LouisianaStateMuseum.org for updates on exhibit-related programming, including activities for families and children.