Rex’s female artisans
The King of Rex is greeted by Mayor Chep Morrison on Mardi Gras Day 1953. The golden canopy and crown design of the Rex King float was designed by Leda Plauche in the mid-1930s. It is still used today.
Photo provided courtesy of the Louisiana Division of the New Orleans Public Library
While the King of Rex is always, well, a King, the art direction of the Rex parade during the first half of the 20th century was led by women.
Ceneilla Bower Alexander moved to New Orleans with her husband, Rev. William Alexander, who became the pastor of the Prytania Street Presbyterian Church. Mrs. Alexander was the designer of Rex from 1911-1923, and her costume creations were known for their extravagance and grandeur. Her float designs were so involved and detailed that, as a result, they were often not able to be executed by the sculptor or decorator.
Louis Andrews Fischer, named for her father, was a resident of the Pontalba Apartments in the French Quarter and was an active part of the growing literary and artistic lifestyle embraced there during the 1920s. She first worked on costumes for Rex in 1919 as a Newcomb College art student, and then took over full design duties after Mrs. Alexander’s departure. She was witty and flamboyant, and these traits were reflected in her designs, which celebrated the mischief and comedy of Carnival and included elements of art deco, the Arts and Crafts Movement and more. Her last design – for the 1931 parade, “The Story of the Drama” – was the first parade to address theater, another of her great passions.
Leda Hincks Plauche, a New Orleans native from a large, wealthy Creole family, also attended Newcomb. Her family was very involved in Carnival; her husband was Captain of the Atlanteans for 40 years and her daughter served as royalty on multiple krewes. While she designed during the 1930s and 1940s, her glamorous and vividly colorful designs didn’t reflect the times of economic hardship – and she was widely celebrated.
Yet another Newcomb College student, Alice Peak Reiss, took over Rex design from 1954-1968, creating detailed living works of art in bold colors and a whimsical, dreamy design style. Her first parade was taken on late in the season, as the other designer had taken ill; in just 4 weeks, she researched and designed an entire parade on the theme “George Washington.”