Mobile Carnival Museum

Thematic Series

The Mobile Carnival Museum hosts a series of exhibits that explores various traditions, people, events, and expression that make Carnival in Mobile so very special. This programmatic series began in 2018. Exhibits occupy the main reception room of the Bernstein-Bush House of the Museum. The goal of the series is to highlight the many ties between the Port City and its greatest living tradition of Mardi Gras. Noted Carnival figures & personalities, “spirits”, couture, food, silver, children, and numerous topics have been explored.

Carnival through the Eyes of Child: The Youthful Experience of Mardi Gras in Mobile

November 2023 – April 2024

Carnival, with Mardi Gras at its height, engages the hearts and minds of Mobilians of all ages. Carnival Through the Eyes of a Child celebrated many of the ways in which Mobile’s smallest residents make the biggest of impacts during the Port City’s most beloved time of year. The show examined fifteen traditions, organizations, roles, and activities through which kiddos partake in and contribute to the Port City’s most important annual celebration.

Setting the Sideboard and Emptying the Vault Carnival and Silver

April 2023 – November 2023

Setting the Sideboard and Emptying the Vaults was the first celebration of the decorative arts of Carnival. The exhibit was also the first exhibit on Mobile-attuned silver in over three decades. Over three hundred pieces of silver were displayed as part of the show. The fourteen installations comprising the exhibit embraced topics as distinct as association, purpose, gender, object, and much else.

Of Men and Myths: Joseph Stillwell Cain and Julian Lee Rayford

November 2022 – March 2023

Joseph Stillwell Cain is the most famous person(a) in Mobile Carnival history.  Of Men and Myths examined Joe Cain’s life, resurrection, and constant reinvention. This multimedia and immersive show dove into the man and man behind that ultimate of Mardi Gras mystiques.  While Joe Cain was a focus of the show, Julian Lee Rayford, the man behind his revival and reinvention, was given renewed and focused attention. Of Men and Myths looks how Rayford – a noted sculptor, painter, novelist, folklorist, and poet – jettisoned Cain from relative obscurity into cult status.

From Chicken on a Stick to Fancy Fare: Carnival and Cuisine

November 2021 – April 2022

Carnival and Cuisine was – literally and figuratively – a feast for the senses! Celebrating Mobile’s rich culinary past from prehistory to the present day through the lens of Mardi Gras, Carnival, and Cuisine the show highlighted a selection of foodie-informed events, traditions, and spaces that define Mobile’s greatest living tradition. Recurring subjects include, but were not limited to nature’s bounty or farm/Delta/Gulf to table, the role of imported ingredients, ethnicity in local foodways, family and food, the business of dining, and “sauced” or alcohol in cooking.

Bringing the Rocks out of the Bank Box: Carnival and Jewelry

October 2020 – March 2021

Carnival and Bling was the first exhibit to focus exclusively on Mardi Gras jewelry. The show organized the rocks within the Mardi Gras jewelry box into five categories: royal regalia; favors; leading lady jewelry; pins; and gifts to queens. Each one of the aforementioned classifications is unique and has stories to tell. Within this organizational structure, the exhibit examined a cross sections of themes, including the creative process behind the creation of one-of-a-kind creations, the symbolism of designs, the sources of inspiration, the importance of tradition, and much more. Special emphasis was given to the creations of Dynasty Collections, a Mobile firm renowned nationwide for its Carnival regalia.

Right off the Royal Runway: Carnival and Couture

June – September 2020

Carnival and Couture employed the artistic medium of fashion to convey unique aspects of Mobile’s Carnival culture and style. A selection of over fifty ensembles dating from the 1920s to 2020 were orchestrated in such a way as to impart impulses and looks that are at once local, national, and international in their reach. Themes informing the show included: the creative process (who designed what), style (what is it), function (the event), and the spirit of the times (what epoch). Carnival and Couture explored how the design, creation, and donning of a given garment speaks to a time, a place, and most importantly a tradition – Carnival in Mobile.

Mobile Makers: Present-Day Artists and Artisans of Carnival

November 2019 – March 2020

Mobile Makers showcased a selection of creative geniuses that are behind the Port City’s present-day Mardi Gras celebrations.  Featuring thirty artists/artisans, the show highlighted the diversity of not only the Carnival arts, but also Mobile’s cultural scene as a whole.  These train designers, couturiers, painters, caterers, jewelers, float designers, costume makers, and other creatives set the tone for Mobile’s greatest living tradition. Individual exhibits on a number of these artists will follow in the years ahead. Many of their creations are found throughout the Carnival Museum’s galleries.

Emily Staples Hearin: Grand Dame of Mobile & Carnival

Summer – Fall 2019

Arguably no individual better represented Mobile and Carnival than Emily Staples Hearin (1916-2004). The 1934 Queen of Carnival legacy still positively informs her hometown and Mardi Gras. This exhibit, which is divided into four parts (childhood, reign, young matron, and civic leader), not only celebrates the great lady & her legacy, but also demonstrates how the monarchs of misrule championed Mobile before & long after their respective reigns.

The Tout Ensemble: Edmond deCelle and the Studio deCelle

March – June 2019

Born in England to a Danish opera singer and Chicago businessman, Edmond deCelle (1889-1972) was a Renaissance man. Upon arriving in Mobile in 1916, deCelle would change the trajectory of Mobile’s cultural scene, particularly as it related to all aspects Carnival. The Tout Ensemble explored deCelle’s life and career in all of their glory. Comprised of paintings, designs for costumes, costumes, trains, designs for tableaux, and much else, the show examined how one amazing man and his atelier took the arts of Carnival to new heights.

John Augustus Walker: Artist and Designer of Mobile and Carnival

Winter 2018 

This exhibit examined the life and career of artist and float designer John Augustus Walker (1901-1967). The show explored Walker’s work in relation to the times in which he lived, artistic movements of his time, and evolution of the city which he greatly embellished through his work. Organized by genre and theme, “John Augustus Walker: Artist-Designer of Mobile and Carnival” highlighted how Walker and Carnival were vital parts of the Mobile Renaissance of the 1920s-1960s.

From Silver Julep Cups to Plastic Roadies: The “Spirits” of Carnival

Fall 2018

The “Spirits” of Carnival inaugurated the Mobile Carnival Museum’s thematic exhibit series.  This show explored the history of nine libations that animate Mobile’s most special season. The carefully choreographed selection of vessels tells the story of not only the elixirs of Mardi Gras, but also how they fit in the histories of Mobile, Alabama, and American history.