Founder recalls inspiration for Carnivale event
News  /  Village

Take a vibrant stew of costumes and masks from Venice, add generous helpings of beads and king cakes from New Orleans, and you’ll end up with the Carnivale Parade in Manitou Springs.

That’s what Arlene Wood did about 30 years ago. She and her husband, Jim, had visited their daughter, who was studying in Italy, and took a side trip to Venice. There, she was smitten by glass masks from the isle of Murano, home to glass artists for centuries. 

The Woods bought so many masks, they had to buy an additional suitcase. As they headed for home, Arlene dashed to the airport gift shop and found postcards of festivals in Venice, showing people in gondolas, wearing brightly colored costumes reflected in the Grand Canal. 

“This is magical, like nothing I have ever seen before,” she recalls. “I started thinking about our town and how we were looking shabby. We had empty storefronts.”

The longtime social worker and Commonwheel Artists Co-op member pondered the problem and decided she could do something “to help bring people into town to see how wonderful we are.” 

Wood started telling people about her idea to throw a festival and everyone leaped on board.

She took a gold bedspread and made ponchos for herself and her husband. About 25 people danced on downtown sidewalks, and a few played their musical instruments. Merchants came out of their businesses to watch and onlookers applauded.

The second year, participation doubled. Soon, the organizers had to get permission to block off streets to traffic so the revelers could take over downtown.

All the parades over the years have kind of blended together for Wood, but so many good memories stand out.

She recalls being partway through painting a butterfly on someone’s face in a shop and a few people ran in and said, “Arlene, you have to come out here.” 

“Let me finish this,” she said. 

“No, you’ve got to come out now,” they urged.

“So I said, ‘Sorry, I’ll try to get back in.’ And there was a humongous amount of people dressed in costume. … It was thrilling, absolutely thrilling. I never did get back to finish that poor girl’s butterfly.”

She remembers one year, being in the parade as it approached the Manitou Springs Library property at Manitou and Pawnee avenues, where people were lined up on the sloping library lawn as if they were in bleachers.

“They were all over that property, standing and watching the parade. I remember us coming around the corner, and there was this roar. And I was just thrilled,” Wood says.

“It made my heart happy. It made me think, ‘Oh, this is good for the arts, for our people. I hope it gives them a lift.’”

Some of the memories make her heart ache, though. She thinks of all the helpers and participants who have passed away, people like Chris Dysart, Jack Elder and Wayne and Mary Mashburn.

“Those guys have a legacy that I think should be recognized and cherished because they kept it going,” Wood says.

Through the years, others stepped up to help, including longtime Manitou residents Ann Rodgers, Deborah Thornton and Commonwheel mainstay Julia Wright, who fashions beautiful feather masks for paraders. The Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce took on the organizing a few years ago.

René Young Allen, who created vibrant watercolors for parade posters now on display at Commonwheel, 102 Cañon Ave., was involved in the parade for about 20 years.

“I’m very grateful to Arlene for bringing this joyful dream to life and sharing it with so many. She has encouraged, supported and cheered us on year after year,” she says.

“The Manitou Springs Carnivale Parade is driven by a very enchanting and creative spirit. It has been a pleasure to feel the inspiration of it.”

Allen also mentioned the late Al Laurie, who created the giant puppets that return for every parade, and “other, very noteworthy creative contributors” such as Jim Roth, Andy Scott and her husband, Blake Allen.

Commonwheel member Joy Morauski has known the Wood family for more than 20 years.

“I have worked with Arlene and found her to be a fabulous person. She is very kind, generous and enthusiastic about art and the Manitou community,” Morauski said.

Carol White, who has lived in Manitou for 31 years, says it’s the first place where she’s felt such a strong sense of community.

“Arlene and Jim Wood exemplify that,” she says, “through their participation and involvement.”

The Woods have been married for 56 years. Jim recently went into assisted living, and Arlene has promised that they’ll continue to have adventures.

“I think he felt that his life outside of assisted living was over,” she says. “I’ve been trying to show him that no, your life goes on. And we are still going to be doing special things.”

They were grand marshals in this year’s parade, riding proudly in a carriage, wearing costumes that Arlene created, leading 30-plus krewes and cheered on by people who love what they did for Manitou.

“We were artists,” Wood says, “and we wanted to do something joyful to make our town happy.”

Becky Pontz, the court jester, holds one end of the balloon arch.

King Ben and Queen Jannine greet their loyal subjects on Saturday, Feb. 18.

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