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Sculpting Mardi Gras Floats with Gabriel Wimmer

Behind the scenes of carnival with Gabriel and Aly.

Photo: Michael Tucker

Behind the scenes of carnival with Gabriel and Aly.

How did you get into Mardi Gras and how did you specifically get into float sculpting?

I have a degree in film and had been working in the film Industry in Minnesota specializing in props and prosthetics. I decided to move to New Orleans in 2011 with the same career path in mind. I, initially, started working in film in New Orleans as a sculptor, and then, was lucky enough to be introduced to Jonathan Bertuccelli, the owner of Studio 3, Inc. Mardi Gras was never on my radar, but I really fell in love with the work and the camaraderie that’s such a huge part of this industry.

I also met my partner, Aly Adduci, through Studio 3. She started as a float painter in 2006 with Royal Artists but began her sculpting career in 2009 in film. We’ve both worked for numerous companies inside and out of Mardi Gras which lead us to start Corridor Studios in 2015: a full service design and fabrication shop. We work with the best companies, Krewe’s, and artists in the state.

The Seinfeld heads are for floats for the Krewe of Comogo

Can you briefly describe the process of creating a float from conception to execution? How long does this process take?

What we do is just one small aspect of float building. It’s a collaborative process. Like anything else, it starts with an idea and then, a design. The are perimeters set forth by the city that must be met, and there is also an eye towards the usability and comfort of the riders.

From a design standpoint, every Krewe has its own personality and visual identity. The designer works within that framework while still trying to bring something new to the streets every year. The best float building companies are able to find a balance between innovation and traditional process.

What typically inspires your work?

Again, collaboration. It’s nice to be the sculptor of a float or prop you designed but it’s not a guarantee. Our work in Mardi Gras is defined by the theme of the float and the design. Which is not to say we have no free will. We do our best work within a loose set of perimeters. We pull references from everything from classical Greek sculpture to cartoons. We are constantly inspired by the incredible artistry of other Carnival artists from New Orleans to Italy. Prop building is a specialty, and the artistry needs to be balanced with solid engineering. The best work happens when every artist in the chain is given the freedom to put their mark on the final product.

Can you describe the art of float sculpting?

Sculpting for Mardi Gras floats, or really anything, is a learning process. We have worked as sculptors for a lot of different companies in a lot of different fields. All of these experiences inform the way that we work and the new skills and materials we bring to Mardi Gras. There’s been a push in recent years for more special effects, custom lighting, and animation, and it’s exciting to be a part of that. We love the extravagance exemplified in the Carnival work of Rio de Janeiro and Viareggio, Italy and want to see more of that visual expression in New Orleans. As artists, we don’t want to just kick the can down the road, we want to be doing phenomenal work.

“As artists, we don’t want to just kick the can down the road, we want to be doing phenomenal work.”

What is something you think the general Mardi Gras audience doesn’t notice/know about the magic and power of Mardi Gras floats?

Being a Mardi Gras artist is not a seasonal or a volunteer job. It’s a small specialized industry that is unique to New Orleans. An entire year goes into designing and decorating the floats and getting them out on the streets where they will will exist as a public spectacle for only a couple of hours. Then the slate is wiped clean and the whole process begins again. It’s an incredible amount of work to put into an art form with such a short life span, a definite labor of love.

Gabriel paints George Costanza's hair at their studio in Mid City

Their dog, Pika

Over every medium what draws you to Mardi Gras as your artistic expression?

The prop is not unlike the figurehead on a ship. Props can be gaudy or simple, intricate, and lovely. It’s the first glimpse of the float you see as it’s coming down the street. It’s thrilling to stand amongst the crowd and see the finished work pass by lit up and sparkling. It’s something we are proud to be a part of. A white gallery wall can’t touch it!

Are there any specific floats or parades you’ve worked on that you are particularly proud of?

Mardi Gras, by nature, is an ephemeral art form so it’s always exciting to be a part of a new Signature Float which will roll for many seasons. Aly is particularly proud of the Altar of Aphrodite float she designed and sculpted for the Krewe of Pygmalion. I’m proud of the work I do with Captain, Earl Comeaux, and the Krewe of Comogo in Plaquemine. There’s good work happening outside of the New Orleans metro area and Comogo is no exception.

What’s your favorite parade?

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, we love the artistry that goes into Proteus. Decorated by Royal Artists, it just gets better every year.

We are also fans of the Tucks parade which couldn’t be more different that Proteus but is always fun and irreverent. They’ve also started incorporating more moving parts and animated props with the help of Studio 3, and we would love to see other Krewes follow their lead.

“Props can be gaudy or simple, intricate, and lovely. It’s the first glimpse of the float you see as it’s coming down the street. It’s thrilling to stand amongst the crowd and see the finished work pass by lit up and sparkling.”
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