February 28, 2024

Featured Falcons: Jasyn Fowler and Ben Kaiser

Celebrations steeped in purple, gold and green are nothing new for members of the University of Montevallo community. Two UM alumni, Jasyn Fowler and Ben Kaiser, have made an artistic splash in Mobile’s Mardi Gras festivities. Fowler creates intricate gowns, trains and costumes for krewe balls and parties, and Kaiser owns a company that designs and builds majestic floats for the parades.   

Jasyn Fowler 

Jasyn FowlerGrowing up watching his mother and grandmother sew, it was at Montevallo that Fowler truly discovered his passion for creating garments. The Hazel Green native graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Science in Retail Merchandising and took sewing as part of the curriculum for the program, known then as home economics.  

“I grew up in a high school that had no theater or music program,” Fowler said. “But I came to Montevallo and got into the concert choir and did costumes for College Night — I was in the Gold Side cast and cabinet for years. Being from a small town where it wasn’t acceptable for a boy to sew, everything in my life jumped off when I got to Montevallo.” 

Fowler moved to Mobile after graduation and has worked in the retail sector for more than 30 years, most recently as a regional visual manager for Belk across five states in the Gulf Coast region. He immediately dove into the city’s Mardi Gras scene when he was recruited by the king of a krewe — a social organization that hosts parades and balls for the Carnival season — who was looking for a designer with fresh ideas and a theatrical edge. 

Fowler’s work grew from there, and he started creating more and more krewe costumes and trains, the long, tapestry-like decorated fabric that krewe monarchs wear to their balls. Each piece that he creates takes an average of nine months to complete and can require hundreds of thousands of rhinestones. Some organizations have specific requests and requirements for their costumes, but his favorite jobs allow him creative control over the concepts. He usually customizes the design to his client’s interests.  

“I did one a couple years ago where she was into NASA, so her entire train was the solar system and asteroid explosions all the way up it,” Fowler said. “Everyone saw all the beautiful sparkles and probably didn’t realize that it was Orion’s Belt, but she did, of course.”  

He also created a train for a woman who was interested in studying autism — all the designs on her train were puzzle pieces, and each piece contained a reference to her family members. Another set of custom trains featured stained glass window designs for a couple that loved the stained glass windows they’d seen on a trip to Spain. 

Fowler has been a member of the Krewe of Phoenix for the past 10 years and served as a monarch in 2019 — he created his own train featuring ornate Celtic knots as a nod to his Irish heritage. That same year, he founded Lumière, his official event decor and costume design business. Aside from krewe costumes, he creates Halloween costumes and does decoration for holidays, weddings and other special events. 

“There’s a lot of theatre that goes into Mardi Gras, and I truly did get a lot of that basis from Montevallo,” Fowler said. “My daily life is nothing but creating ideas, and it has been for years. I’m very lucky.” 

Ben Kaiser 

Ben KaiserKaiser looks back on his time at Montevallo fondly, and he owes it to his mother. After their home flooded when he was in high school, he decided to hold off on his college plans. But his mom secretly submitted a painting and a drawing of his that they had saved from the flood to the University, which resulted in him earning a scholarship.  

“I cannot express enough how supportive my mom is,” Kaiser said. “She said, ‘Look, you’re my son. I know you, I know that that’s what you actually want to do. You don’t want a business degree, you want to do art.’ And that’s exactly what I did.” 

The Bayou La Batre native graduated from UM in 2016 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and sculpture. He served as the set designer for Gold Side every year during his college career. He was still a student when he shared his paintings on Facebook and was soon contacted about potentially designing floats for Mardi Gras in Mobile.  

“I honestly thought I was going to die,” Kaiser joked. “The warehouses where they keep the floats are secret, so when I got the job interview, they had me go to this big, unmarked warehouse on the industrial side of Mobile. I was like, ‘Okay, this is super sketchy!’” 

Kaiser is now the owner of Mirth Artists LLC, which currently has contracts with three Mardi Gras organizations — the Crewe of Columbus, Infant Mystics and the Knights of Revelry. He and his team of 15 build and paint about 35 floats per year, each costing around $20,000 to $30,000. 

“Every two years the organizations change the person that’s in charge of designing,” Kaiser said. “Sometimes they’ll say, ‘I’m really into this, so can you do a parade off of this?’ Then some of them are like, ‘We know we saw your work. We like your stuff. What do you want to do?’ I’m always super happy about that.” 

Kaiser’s favorite creation is one from this year’s Crewe of Columbus parade, the Mighty Isabella. The float features three massive, vibrantly colored sea serpents.  

“I chopped the serpents’ heads off and I got to rebuild the entire thing,” Kaiser said. “When I opened them up, it was like a time capsule inside. There were cups and throws and stuff from decades ago.” 

The original float is over 20 years old — in fact, Kaiser remembers it being a part of parades that he marched in with his high school’s band. Mardi Gras float creation features a yearly cycle of retouching, repurposing and recycling parts of old floats to make something totally new.  

“One of this year’s floats has a werewolf figure on the front, and I’ve now had it for five years,” Kaiser said. “Before it was a werewolf, it was a minotaur. Before it was a minotaur, it was an umpire. Before that it was Elvis. We just keep chopping them up and remodeling them to be whatever we need them to be.”  

Outside of making floats, Kaiser does oil painting. He has a gallery show coming up in June called “Ethereal,” the theme of which is a modern twist on old religious-style paintings. It will be on display at the Mobile Arts Council.