Past Treasure of the Month – February 2008

Vintage Mardi Gras Gown Sketches
Costume sketch for 'Carnival of Venice.' Dress worn by Mary Lee Campbell, 1949. Costume sketch for 'Brazil.' Dress worn by Alice Campbell, 1949. Medieval-themed Mardi Gras Costume sketch. Designed for Saralin Barclay, Galveston Princess, 1938.
Costume sketch for “Carnival of Venice.” Dress worn by Mary Lee Campbell, 1949.
Costume sketch for “Brazil.” Dress worn by Alice Campbell, 1949.
Medieval-themed Mardi Gras Costume sketch. Designed for Saralin Barclay, Galveston Princess, 1938.

During the month of February, the Rosenberg Library exhibited a selection of vintage Mardi Gras gown sketches. The colorful sketches, dating from 1938 through 1949, were prepared by fashion designers at the Emile Robin studio in San Antonio, Texas. Robin was a well known interior decorator, set designer, and float manufacturer in San Antonio during the first half of the twentieth century. In addition to creating spectacular costumes for Galveston’s Mardi Gras, Emile Robin and his brother, Marcel, designed and built many of the parade floats used for San Antonio’s famous Fiesta celebrations. The French-born brothers trained at the illustrious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Galveston’s first Mardi Gras celebration was held in 1967. Events included lavish masquerade balls, elaborate theatrical performances, and grand parades. Mardi Gras was discontinued during the time of World War II, but it resumed in 1949. City-sponsored Mardi Gras celebrations ended after the mid-1950s because they were too expensive to continue.

In 1985, Galvestonians George and Cynthia Mitchell launched a revival of Mardi Gras, and it has been a great success for the past twenty years. The twelve-day event still includes the traditional street parades, theatrical performances, and galas. However, art exhibits, live music, and sporting events have also become part of the Mardi Gras celebration. Today, more than a dozen krewes participate in the festivities.