The Art of a Parade
By Suzanne Vanderhoef
Did you ever wonder what goes into the creation of a parade float? We decided to find out, so we followed the process for more than a year as the artists at America’s Birthday 4th of July Celebration parade take their ideas from pencil drawings to larger-than-life moving sculptures that drive across downtown St. Louis.
As Artistic Director Ryan Marshall explains, the first step is doing a bunch of doodles in pencil. Those pencil drawings are then turned into an ink rendering. Those ink renderings are then scanned into a computer, just in case the next step goes wrong, which is watercolor.
Then, once they have their theme and see what floats they’re dealing with, the next step is to go into the warehouse to see what types of props and bases are available from previous years. In fact, out of the 20+ floats that will ride in the parade, only about two to three are completely remodeled. The rest just get re-tweaked.
But things don’t end with the sculpting and painting. Remember, these floats can be up to 17 feet tall …and they need to drive through downtown St. Louis.
“All the issues that you would never think about running a float between here and downtown are tree branches and street lights,” says Marshall. “You have to know what are my height limits under this bridge or that bridge, and so they go out and will “stick the route” is what they call it. They have a big collapsible stick and as they approach a bridge, they get out of the car, they measure the bridge and just make sure nothing has changed. And they do it every parade.”
But, organizers say, when it’s all done, their months of hard work are all worth it.
“We really hope that parades are for everybody, but we really hope to get after that inner child,” says Grand Marshall David Plufka. “We’re hoping that we get those expressions from people of all ages that kind of bring them back to, maybe it’s a county fair that they went to when they were a kid or maybe it’s some other element of their youth that they recall. We hope that these floats, tap into some of those feelings and experiences, that bring us all together.”