Human Flower Project
Thursday, December 30, 2004
“Paradise” on Parade
Saturday brings the 116th Tournament of Roses Parade; from horse-drawn carriages festooned with blossoms, the floats are now computerized, lacquered behemoths that take a year to make.
In 1890 the residents of Pasadena, California, decided New Year’s Day was a bragging opportunity.
“‘In New York, people are buried in snow,’ announced Professor Charles F. Holder” of the Valley Hunt Club. “‘Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.’ ”
The Tournament of Roses has an outstanding website, with links to the big commercial float-building companies and all-volunteer armies. All it takes, according to one professional outfit, is “20 million flowers, 8,000 gallons of glue and 16,000 volunteers.”
Stanford Decorated Car, 1909
The Rose Parade is a five star chamber-of-commerce spectacle. A photographic timeline shows how the shaggy early floats, designed and executed by manic frat boys, evolved into the rolling kinetic sculptures of today.
Malaysia float, 1990
Photo: Charisma Designs
Even the sleek 21st century floats must be sheathed only with live flowers and other organic matter. “Dinosaurs and dragons often feature Brussels sprouts, cranberries and squash; underwater scenes may include kale and cauliflower; halved raw potatoes are ideal for a cobblestone walkway.” But spinach doesn’t hold up well.
The Rose Parade themes have been a fairly la-di-dah mix of patriotism and fantasy, though there have been some windshifts through the decades. In 1936, the parade recounted “History in Flowers.” 1968 brought the “Wonderful World of Adventure.” “Thanks to Communications” was the 1988 theme, and for 2005 a decidedly Bushy theme: “Celebrate Family.”
The South Pasadena committee has entered “Mom’s Flight School,” as its float in this year’s competition: “featuring a mother dragon lying on her back, protecting her toddler and unhatched egg.” Hard to tell whether this entry celebrates single-motherhood or in vitro fertilization.
A pop cultural heroine emerges from the fumes: Isabella Coleman, the glue goddess whose innovations in the late 1920s took float-building from backyard hobby-craft to kitsch commercial art (granted, one that appeals to a 7-year old’s aesthetic: polar bears, Fred Flintstone and the Bedrock gang, a 210-foot ice cream sundae, and Dinah Shore in sparkling chariot of white blooms).
The parade begins at 8:00 a.m. (Pacific Time, of course) on New Year’s Day.
Bed of Roses, San Francisco’s float, 1931