“The Flambeaux of New Orleans Mardi Gras”
By Stan Strembicki
On display February 15th, 2019 – March 7th, 2019
Flambeaux, it’s in many ways the essence of the Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans. It’s grown beyond its early practical purpose of lighting parade route to what some consider an art form.
Flambeaux (plural for flambeau, or a flaming torch) comes from the French word flambe, meaning “flame.” The first official Mardi Gras flambeaux debuted with the Mistick Krewe of Comus on Fat Tuesday in 1857. In the beginning, the flambeaux were needed for revelers to see the Carnival parades at night. Originally, the flambeaux carried wooden rudimentary torches, which were staves wrapped with lit pine-tar rags. That evolved to oil-burning lanterns mounted on metal trays and long poles to prevent the flames from burning the carriers.
Flambeaux was a tradition that arose out of necessity but also illustrated elements of emerging American culture and social classes, as the flambeaux were originally carried by slaves and free men of color, namely Creoles. The torches turned into a spectacle as the men waved and twirled the torches while dancing down the street. Parade-watchers would throw tips to the torch carriers, often 25-cent or 50-cent coins, more in response to the elaborate performances than the light itself.
Although not as common as they were in the past, many of the more tradition minded parade krewes still use flambeaux during their night parades. It’s a hard job, managing to carry a 8 foot pole with a can of kerosene on top and two burners above your head for 5 miles while you march thru the parade.
I became interested in what I soon discovered was a culture of the flambeaux, older men, formally called supervisors, trained younger men on the traditions and techniques. One of these men, Clarence Holmes who I have gotten to know over the years, refers to himself as the “King of the Flambueax” and I have been photographing him and his fellow flambeaux for more than 27 years now. This selection of work from more recent Mardi Gras hopes to offer to the viewer some of the mystery and tradition of the flambeaux culture of New Orleans Mardi Gras.
Stan Strembicki was born in Providence, R.I. in 1952. He attended the University of Rhode Island as a theater student and only took photo as he thought it would be easier than drawing. In this course of this dodge, he met Professor Bart Parker the photo 1 instructor, who would become a life long inspiration and mentor. He transferred to the Art department and received his BFA in Photography and Studio Art in 1975. This turn of events has always reminded Strembicki that at any point in your life, you can meet that one person who can make a pivotal difference in your life.
In 1975 he moved to Southern California where he attended the California Institute of the Arts and received his MFA in Photography in 1977. In the fall of 1977 he moved back to the Northeast and taught at Southern Conn. State University and the University of New Haven until 1982. In 1982 he accepted a position as area head of photography at the School of Art at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He is currently a Professor emeritus of Art at the School of Art where he taught classes on the undergraduate and graduate level in photography for 36 years. He has served as Director of Graduate Studies and Assistant Dean of Students in the School of Art and was the area coordinator of the photography program in the College of Art. He founded the schools study abroad program in Italy and has taught more than 13 photography workshops in Florence since 1990.
His work is exhibited widely in the USA and Europe, and is part of major collections and museums in the Midwest and southern United States and on all seven continents. He has a long history with the city of New Orleans, having first visited the city in 1984. He has photographed the last 27 Mardi Gras events in New Orleans. His work on Post Katrina New Orleans began 30 days after the hurricane hit the city and continues to this day. His current work involves documenting the rebuilding of the lower 9th ward and the faith based community there.
He currently lives in St. Louis with his wife of 38 years Rosemary.