Historic Viareggio Carnival papier maché heads go on display in Detroit


A group of young Detroit artists, designers and entrepreneurs hosted an exhibition featuring vintage “Big Heads” – papier-mache heads, made in Viareggio in the 20s, and used in parades in the Motor City. The heads on display at the Fisher Building were part of the collection of the Hudson Department store in Detroit, and were imported from Vireggio up until the 70s.

There are plans to restore the now slightly decrepit figures. Fundraisers are in the works, funded by “young executives” under the auspices of Detroit’s Parade Company. The company president and ceo Tony Michaels, with the help of Ryan Patrick Hooper, Shawn Santo and Kevin Borsay – members of Pure Detroit, a design firm, want to keep this bit of Detroit – and Tuscany’s – heritage alive.

The Detroit News reports on the show: “”They’re not perfect; they’re not mint condition,” Hooper said. “They’re a little dusty; they need a little help.” But the 20 heads they selected to display are clearly works of art, especially the mammoth pirate crew sporting tattoos and gold earrings. A little clown in a harlequin costume pops from their treasure chest holding a pennant that reads “Viareggio,” the town where these Big Heads were created. If you look closely you’ll see pieces of Italian newspapers that make up the papier mache compositions peaking through cracks in their paint. They are even signed by the artist who made them.

There are pairs of animal heads: pandas, reindeer with badly cracked noses, bees and racoons keeping company with clowns and an alligator. The blue hippo may be familiar from parades of recent years. But there’s a seldom-seen Martian head from the ‘50s or ‘60s when space travel captured the American imagination. When it was featured in the Thanksgiving parade, the space man accompanied several fanciful astronauts and a space capsule.

The parade foundation brought a Viareggio artist to Detroit in 1989 to create a Big Head representing President George W. Bush. Detroit’s own artists learned the Italian techniques and began producing their own. Today the Parade Company owns about 300 of the delicate creations. Over the years the Big Heads were overtaken by other displays, and not many were seen in the parades. But, according to Parade Company President and CEO Tony Michaels, Sean Moran, Jim Dailey and Steve Booher started the Big Head Corps about six years ago with a goal of preservation.

This year 150 “young executive” volunteers each paid $200 for the privilege of wearing a Big Head and corresponding costume in the parade. Michaels says some heads are restored each year, and for the Big Heads Take the Fisher exhibit, the Parade Company released some that are still awaiting TLC.”

Find out more about the Big Heads -and how to “adopt” one – on Pure Detroit’s website, linked here. Read the full article on The Detroit News’ website, linked here.



The first photo is from Found Michigan, the other two are by RJSoper.

, (Thanks Steve, for sending this in!)

We encourage you to let us know what you think! Fateci sapere cosa ne pensate!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s