Mardi Gras Costume Exhibit in the Hilltowns

Mardi Gras Costume Exhibit
During Winklepicker Festival in Ashfield
Feb. 17-18, 2012

Mardi Gras is incredibly rich in culture, a fact that sets it apart from the majority of other American celebrations; a visit Winklepicker Festival's Mardi Gras Costume Exhibit can supplement studies of American culture, fashion, costume design, sewing, or art. Opening night: Friday, Feb. 16th at 7pm.

In New England, costumes are generally reserved for Halloween (and maybe the occasional themed party).  In New Orleans, however, costumes play an incredibly important role in the celebration of Mardi Gras.  Families can learn about costume culture and creation at the Winklepicker Festival’s costume exhibit coming to Ashfield, MA on February 17th-19th, 2012!

The festival’s theme is Mardi Gras, as both events happen on the same weekend this year, and there will be Mardi Gras-style events taking place all weekend.  Included in the events is the opportunity to visit an exhibit about the serious art of Mardi Gras costuming.  The pieces created and worn vary greatly- as there is never one theme for the festival (outfits can be as outlandish as a wearable clawfoot tub!).  Costumes are worn throughout Mardi Gras for parades and balls (held by groups called krewes).  But it’s not just the wearing of the costume that is significant.  Participants spend all year making their outfits and will pay hundreds of dollars for materials- costumes are incredibly intricate, elaborate, and are seeped creativity.

On display during the costume exhibit will be handmade costumes worn by members of a few different Mardi Gras krewes,  and many handmade masks, as well as photos and videos of costumes and traditional Mardi Gras celebrations.

Opening night is Friday, Feb. 16th where there will be a presentation on costuming with Nancy Werner.  Beginning at 7pm, the opening will include an informal discussion of costuming techniques and costume culture– attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and will learn from firsthand experiences.

Mardi Gras is incredibly rich in culture, a fact that sets it apart from the majority of other American celebrations; a visit to the exhibit can supplement studies of American culture, fashion, costume design, sewing, or art.  In addition to opening night, the gallery will be open on Saturday, Feb 17th from 10am-5pm and Sunday, Feb 18th from 1-5pm. For more information call Nan at 413-628-4003

Rag Shag Parades – A Western MA Tradition

Is Western Mass Home to the Rag Shag Parade?

Kids line up for Ashfield’s Rag Shag Parade. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

A couple of years ago the question on the origins of the “rag shag parade” was proposed to our readers:

I had never heard of a rag shag parade until I moved to Western Mass. And as far I can tell, this style of parade is a local phenomenon. You don’t hear about rag shag parades happening in Minnesota or Louisiana. Not even Boston! Correct me if I’ve overlooked something, but they seem to take place largely in Western Mass, with at least eleven happening this week. So what gives? How did they originate, and why Western Mass?

And just what is a rag shag parade? Judging from my limited experience, rag shag parades are free-for-all community events where families dress-up in costume and loosely parade down their local town’s main drag. Sometimes fire engines lead the way, sometimes fire engines close up behind. At at the end of the parade there are typically refreshments, activities and/or a bonfire. The kids run around, the adults hide behind masks, and often times trick-or-treating begins. I’m certain there are variations to this format. We’ve been to a number of rag shag parades since our daughter was born. All in Western Mass and all followed a similar pattern. Share with us your favorite rag shag parade stories.

The Great Pumpkin sits outside of the Ashfield Hardware Store and Country Pie on Main Street on Halloween night, waiting for the rag shag parade and trick or treater’s to travel by. This one ton beauty was grown in Plainfield and wired to hear and speak to passersby. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

R. Joshua Mobley posted a great response to this inquiry.  He writes:

“In response to your inquiry on the history of the Rag-Shag, yes it is a New England, and more specifically, W. Mass phenomenon. This history is a little sketchy, but what I found out was that the actual term “Rag-Shag” is an inverse derivative of “Shag-rag”, which literally means: The unkempt and ragged part of the community. Being that the term has slang origins, the actual point of origin is vague at best, circa turn of the 20th century.

“Essentially it was the ruffians and derelicts that began the parade, sort of as a protest to the disparity of classism. It was the only acceptable way their voice could be heard from a voiceless group. Over time it merged with Halloween festivities such as trick-or-treating which did not become a widespread practice until the 1930s, with the first U.S. appearances of the term in 1934,and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939.”

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