The other day I was pedaling down a nondescript Detroit side street on my way to Belle Isle. While rolling along, I came upon an old, brick warehouse where the exterior walls were covered with colorful banners that reminded me of butterfly or dragonfly wings. The 10’ to 12’ high wings were glowing in the late afternoon sunlight creating a spectacle of vibrant, bright, radiant colors.
As I soon found out, the warehouse is home to Caribbean Mardi Gras productions, a float building and costume design outfit that produces many of the colorful, lively floats and costumes for Detroit’s Annual Caribbean International Festival Parade. In talking with one of the many artists working there, I was told the production company is owned by a fellow from Trinidad, and it has built the floats and props here in Detroit for over 30 years.
The artist explained how the steel frames are designed and welded together. I was also shown how they clip onto one of the many floats that will be featured in Saturday’s parade. He described how the array of bright-colored fabric is cut based on a pattern, stitched together, and stretched over the steel frames creating the look of a wing from a cicada bug. Looking closely at the colorful props, I was amazed at the craftsmanship and work that went into them. I saw glued-on sequins that created intriguing patterns, hand stitched ribbons attached along the edges creating colorful highlights and an array of bright fabrics fanning out from the bottom of the prop to the top, producing the look of an exotic seashell. Fascinating stuff!
After seeing how some of the float materials and props were made, I made it a point to check out Saturday’s Annual Caribbean Parade. From downtown, I pedaled up Woodward to Mack Avenue, the starting point. There I saw the final preparations being made to the floats, the costumed marchers, and I also heard calypso bands and steel drum players practicing. What a colorful, uplifting experience!
In addition to the exotic floats featuring many of the colorful wings I saw a few days ago, there were groups of people of all ages dressed in bright Caribbean costumes and dazzling clothes getting ready to march down Woodward to Hart Plaza. I saw little kids dressed like Indians, bright-feathered headdresses larger than life, straw hat-wearing women dressed in dazzling, yet subdued colors of the islands, elaborate Mardi Gras type masks and young drummers playing steel drums and other percussion instruments!
What struck me, as it has in the past while attending this parade, was the upbeat energy! It was reflected in the marchers, those on the floats and especially those viewing the parade along Woodward Avenue on that hot steamy day!