Jack of All Floats Miller honored as Eureka Gras master builder

Friday, February 1, 2013
Jack Miller promenades with 2012 EurekaGras Queen Mary Popovac, right, and Melodye Purdy, the 2013 queen, after the Christening of the Floats Saturday at the Rowdy Beaver. Photo by Jennifer Jackson

In Jack Miller's world, a dagger-toothed jaguar roams the streets, purple and gold tongues shooting from its jaws. A giant red high-heeled shoe stalks the pavement. Every other person is royalty, and it's the Age of Aquarius, the water wheel turning water into a stream of gold, green and purple beads.

Miller is a painter and print-maker who moved to Eureka Springs from New Orleans after Katrina and volunteers his time building floats for the local Mardi Gras parades. On Saturday, Al Hook and Zeek Taylor presented Miller with an award on behalf of the Krewe of Krazo for making Eureka Gras parades a visual feast.

"They've become a must-see event and one of the most photographed events in Eureka," Taylor said.

The award, a Mardi Gras shadow box, was presented at the annual Christening of the Floats and Sponsor Appreciation Day at the Rowdy Beaver Restaurant. In his blessing, Father Shaun Wesley noted that Mardi Gras floats are the work of artists and reflections of God's creation. The two floats presented were the Age of Aquarius, which has a working water wheel that turns, spilling Mardi Gras beads into a basin, and a new version of last year's My-Oh-Maya float, which has a giant jaguar on the front. Miller also made the red shoe float that his daughter, Kristen Miller, rides on in the parades, designed the King's float and the Queen's float, and designed and helped build the Cavaliers float, which took first place in its division in the 2012 Christmas Parade of Lights.

"I've been building something all my life," Miller said. "That's what artists do. If you can visualize it, we can build it."

Originally from Erie, Penn., Miller moved to New Orleans in 1968. In addition to having his own studio where he did etchings, he worked for Studio 3, which made floats for Mardi Gras celebrations and theme parks around the world, spouse Sabina Miller said. At Studio 3, Jack Miller built giant medieval figures designed to be carried in parades for a Japanese amusement park. The process: build up the model with clay, cover the clay with fiberglass, and remove the clay.

"It was old-school," he said.

Miller and Dan Ellis, Eureka Gras founder, work together almost every day on the floats, Miller said, which are parked next to Ellis' house behind the Rowdy Beaver Restaurant. They start with a trailer and build a platform on it, although that's not the way Mardi Gras floats are made.

"They are built on a wagon," he said, "and a lot of them are double-decker. I hope some day to make a real Mardi Gras float -- I'd like to show them what a real Mardi Gras float looks like."

Miller said he has ideas for a New Orleans-style float, which usually has a big head or figure on the front.

"Something dramatic, something big," he said.

After the floats were blessed on Saturday, Miller joined reigning Queen Eureka Mary Popovac and the 2013 queen, Melodye Purdy, in a promenade around the parking lot, followed by the Second Line. Purdy and Rod McGuire, King Krazo VIII, will be crowned at the Coronation Ball at the Crescent Hotel on Feb. 8 at the Crescent Hotel. Miller will be riding on the Cavaliers Float in the Eureka Gras Light and Sound Night Parade, which is Saturday, Feb. 2, at 6 p.m. in downtown Eureka Springs.

Miller's floats will also be featured in the Eureka Gras Royalty Parade, Feb. 9 at 2 p.m. Other Eureka Gras events are the Hookers and Jokers Ball at the Inn of the Ozarks on Feb. 7, the Beaux Arts Ball at the Basin Park Hotel on Feb. 9, a jazz brunch at the Crescent on Feb. 10, and a pub crawl and the St. Elizabeth's King Cake Ball on Mardi Gras, Feb. 12.

Taylor said that Miller has also participates in the Eureka Gras ArtiGras exhibit every year. This year's exhibit is Feb. 11 at Caribbe Restaurant from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Hooks said that he was glad that Miller continues to share his creativity in his new home town.

"What was once solely New Orleans is now uniquely Eurekan," Hooks said.

Eureka Gras is sponsored by the Crescent and Basin Park hotels, Rowdy Beaver Restaurant, Cornerstone Bank and Community First Bank. For more information about Eureka Gras events, go to www.krazo.ureeka.org.

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