You may not know the name, but if you’ve been to Mardi Gras parades in the past 30 years, you’ve seen Ponce’s work. As the leading float artist for Kern Studios, he is responsible for conceiving and drawing designs for floats that appear in many of the biggest parades, from Alla to Zulu.
The list of krewes that have featured Ponce’s work includes Rex, Endymion, Bacchus, Orpheus, Hermes, Babylon, Iris and Caesar. He has created iconic signature floats for nearly all of them: the Orpheus Leviathan, Rex’s Butterfly King, Muses’ red shoe and Kong family floats for Bacchus.
Manuel Ponce is also also known for his technique. While computers and robots have revolutionized the process of float construction, Ponce still does his work by hand. Ponce’s work begins with the parade theme. “Typically the theme comes from the krewe, either the captain or someone who is an art director in the krewe,” he said. “Usually I get a float title and then a list of ideas for each float. I’ll start doing rough sketches, and then we kind of whittle those down. Once those are approved, then I’ll start working on the designs and working with the prop department on figures and props for the front of the floats.”
Henri Schindler, who works closely with Ponce as artistic director for Rex, Endymion, Hermes and Babylon and who has written several books on Carnival, said Ponce has earned a place in history among Mardi Gras’ most gifted artists.
Ponce has also drawn posters and proclamations for several krewes. Each year he draws the images that are minted onto thousands of doubloons.