Anna Eugenie Huger, Queen of Carnival for 2017, is no stranger to Carnival traditions. A native of New Orleans, Anna and parents James (Jim) Middleton Huger and Stephanie Leigh Goliwas Huger, sister Charlotte Huger and brothers (and twins) William Huger and John Huger, as well as aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents -- were and are fans of the revelry, costuming and seeing friends and family in the parades.
And on the Saturday before her reign on Mardi Gras, Anna shared that joie de vivre. Donning her crown and a dress mimicking the elaborate one (designed by Suzanne Perron St. Paul) she will wear to the Rex ball, Anna visited Ochsner Hospital for Children, a program with which the Huger family has close ties, and Children's Hospital.
"My mom came up with the idea to go visit the hospitals," said Anna. "I am so excited about this, because it is so important to spread the Mardi Gras spirit to everyone, especially kids who cannot make it to the parades. I cannot wait to brighten their faces and make these kids day." Anna was joined by three costumed Rex Lieutenants; among the items they handed out were miniature queen dolls.
This undertaking is reflective of Anna's love of working with children: while in high school at Isidore Newman School, she was a volunteer at Lafayette Academy Charter School and is currently a volunteer for St. Jude Hospital in Charleston, S.C., where she attends the College of Charleston.
These hospital visits are a major addition to what has already been a whirlwind debutante season, which included a New Year's Eve bash in honor of her and fellow debs Caroline Lane and Caroline Favrot, hosted by their parents. Her time is now scheduled to the minute through Mardi Gras, which starts early and ends very late: the Royal Run in Audubon Park at 7 a.m., followed by a reception at Hotel Intercontinental that includes a luncheon and parade viewing, then returning home for a reception for family and friends. A limousine picks Anna up to take her to the ball location for photographs and the ball, which starts at 8 p.m. The traditional Meeting of the Courts (with Comus) is followed by the Rex/Comus Queens' Supper, which is scheduled to start at 11:30 p.m. and ends around 2 a.m.
Rex royalty runs in her family: Anna's heritage with Carnival goes back to Mobile, Ala., when Daniel Elliot Huger was the first king of Carnival, Felix I, in 1872. It wasn't much later that Anna's family's royal New Orleans Carnival lineage began: Edwin Thomas Merrick was a duke in 1886, followed by more dukes, maids, a Queen of Carnival -- Bessie Merrick in 1901 -- more maids and dukes, including her grandfather, Killian Loew Huger Jr. in 1950. Anna's great grandfather, Joseph Merrick Jones reigned as Rex, King of Carnival in 1958 and her grandmother, Eugenie Penick Jones Huger, Queen of Carnival in 1952. Anna's aunts Eugenie Elizabeth Huger Sloss and Caroline Merrick Huger Boone were maids in 1978 and 1980, and another aunt, Deborah Huger Valentine. was Queen of Carnival in 1979. Mrs. Sloss' daughter Nina O'Brien Sloss as Queen of Carnival in 2013, Anna's father, James Middleton Huger a duke in 1991, and her brother, John Middleton Polk Huger a page in 2014.
But when it came time for Anna, age 21, to find out that she was going to be Queen of Carnival, she truly wasn't expecting it. "Mardi Gras had been two weeks earlier," says Anna, and it seemed early for something like this to happen. In town on a school break, Anna was going to leave the next day to go back. Her dad told her to get ready for a family dinner, but "let's meet before to go over your finances," Anna recalls him saying. When she walked into the house's library, there were two men -- Rex officials -- waiting for her. "I didn't know the protocol was for any of this," thinking she would be a maid. When one of them read a poem to her, it wasn't until the final line mentioning she was Queen of Carnival that Anna realized her Mardi Gras was going to be like none she had experienced before.
Early on Ash Wednesday, Anna will take off her crown and gown for the last time and put away her scepter as she prepares to return to the College of Charleston.
Anna, who is majoring in arts management with minors in communications and art history, also hopes to expand upon another passion: art. During a semester in 2016 studying in Florence University of the Arts in Florence, Italy, "I took a gallery curating and exhibition class with three other people," says Anna. The group chose three artists, and "one of us would write a press release, another would take photos and make a catalogue, another would do the advertising, and then we would go to a local school or restaurant to hang the artwork and invite people to view it and listen to us speak about it." The exhibition, which focused on one artist at a time, would be up for a month, and then they would switch featured artists, who were Yuri Corti, Luigi Tamanini and Giovanni Rossiello.
Now back at the College of Charleston, she wants to start a club to do just this. Not surprising, as Anna has grown up around art. "My mom is an artist and we would take art classes all throughout my childhood. We would also work with my mom in her studio in our house," much like what she did with her siblings at the home of their grandmother, Eugenie Huger, a noted artist and arts philanthropist.
"Both my mom and grandmother had a very tasteful eye for artwork considering both my current home and grandmother's old home were covered in amazing pieces," says Anna. Some of her favorite pieces at the family home include works by Bradley Sabin, Jeremy Novy, and Damian Aquiles.
With such a finely attuned eye and friends who have not been to Carnival, the question of how to visually explain this unique tradition came up. Anna, chose these three artists to best illustrate New Orleans Mardi Gras:
Katharina Grosse, Wunderblock - "Very vibrant, loud, big, colorful, fun."
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (diptych) (1982) - "Crazy, exuberant, wild." (He is also one of her favorite artists.)
Hiromi Tango, Dance (2013) - "People are always dancing with color and excitement!!
Like Mardi Gras itself, "I picked pieces that represented color, vibrancy and had a lot going on," said Anna.