The Port Arthur News
Alice Thibeault is in her element. In her shop, surrounded by a myriad of art materials — which range from studs and sequins to bones and skulls — she looks entirely at home.
“I live in feathers and plumes and sequins every day,” Thibeault said.
“I’ll probably find a body in here one day,” she added with a laugh.
If that happened, Thibeault would probably transform it into a work of art. She has been selling her scintillating creations since 1991, when she opened Originals by Alice.
“Since I was little, I’ve always been very interested in anything that was glittery or shiny,” Thibeault said. “When my daughter was a baby, I loved doing her Halloween costumes. It went from that to recitals. I do recital props, I paint portraits, I’ve painted murals — I do just about all types of artwork.”
Thibeault got her start designing backdrops and costumes for the various Mardi Gras balls held in Southeast Texas. During a trip to New Orleans, she presented her portfolio to the owner of Maskerade, a shop for all things Mardi Gras. Since then, Thibeault’s business has expanded — from a helicopter pad in Sabine Pass to a custom top hat and cocktail hat for a wedding under the Eiffel Tower.
“I guess you could say it’s gone global,” she said.
Soon it may go viral. Thibeault recently learned that one of her Maskerade creations, a sugar skull-inspired mask she dubbed “Showgirl Skull,” will be featured in a Budweiser commercial that debuts this Sunday during Super Bowl XLVII.
“The girl from the shop contacted me and said that a Budweiser crew came in, took my mask and several others, and decided they were going to put it in the commercial,” Thibeault said. “I’m real excited. I don’t know which one it’s going to be, so I’m going to be watching the whole thing.”
One of Thibeault’s favorite aspects of her is the connections she has formed with customers, she said.
“I have a lot of repeat customers,” she said. “I’ve met so many wonderful people, like in Orange now where I do their designs — they’re just so nice to work with, and they’re fun. And the people that run the shop (in New Orleans) are just very courteous and nice.”
Tibeault’s work is made unique by her successful marriage of New Orleans’ macabre charm and her own native roots.
“There’s just a mystique about it,” she said. “The food, the culture, the eccentricities of it — everything. It’s a fun, easygoing place — they welcome anything.”
Thibeault’s love of New Orleans is merely one ingredient in her recipe for resplendence. For extra flavor, she adds a dash of her own Mexican-American roots.
“The first mask I sent to New Orleans was a skull cap painted with the Virgin Mary, because Dia de los Muertos is very indigenous to the Mexican culture,” she said. “Anything that I’ve ever put over there that’s Dia de los Muertos — I can’t keep my stuff in there. That’s very popular right now.
“New Orleans has that voodoo vibe — it’s like Halloween year round over there. I love that more than the real glitzy, prom-looking stuff. I like to be real quirky.”
Thibeault will literally leave no stone unturned for her masks. She says she is always on the lookout for materials, no matter how macabre.
“Anything that catches the eye,” Thibeault said. “I’ll bleach and dry chicken bones, or I’ll get small rodent skulls on the Internet. Sometimes I’ll tell my husband to be on the lookout for any skulls if he goes to the lake.”
Although Thibeault is grateful for her husband’s assistance, as well as the help she receives from her daughter and mother, she prefers a more solitary approach to the creative process.
“I’m so persnickety — I tell everybody, ‘I don’t work well with others,’” Thibeault said. “I never did good in school because I always had to be on my own. I don’t really want helpers. I want hands on each item that goes out of here.”
Thibeault’s kinship with her art is understandable. She credits her work for helping her through a difficult time.
“ I had breast cancer in 2000, and I worked through Mardi Gras — back pieces and everything,” Thibeault said. “I actually credit my work to getting me through it because it gave me a reason to get up every day. That’s my motto: Always keep going. Never stop.”
That, and “Keep it interesting.”
“I like things that are really different and unique,” Thibeault said. “I never like doing the same thing over and over. That’s why I try to make everything different.
“I get the chance to be different every day.”