All Hail the Queen: Margaret Wenzler instrumental since Carnegie Carnival’s debut

By Catherine Godbey | Living 50 Plus

Eleven years ago, a small group gathered inside the Carnegie Visual Arts Center to discuss ways to raise money for the nonprofit arts center. From that meeting came an idea for a Mardi Gras-style fundraiser.

They called it Carnegie Carnival, which has become one of the most popular events in Decatur, attracting thousands every year to the city’s downtown streets.

“We want to have fun, promote art and creativity and boost retail sales. We hope this is good for everyone,” Kim Mitchell, director of the Carnegie Visual Arts Center, said at the time.

Since the debut of Carnegie Carnival in 2012, the event has netted more than $1 million.

One of the people instrumental since the event’s inception is Margaret Wenzler, a longtime member of the arts center, the first queen of Carnegie Carnival and a founding member of Joe Cain’s Merry Widows and Mistresses of Decatur.

For Wenzler, who preferred not to give her age, but was north of 50 when she was crowned queen in 2012, participating in Carnegie Carnival served as a way to support the arts in Decatur.

From a young age, Wenzler, whose grandfather came to America from Switzerland with a packet of sketches of Lucerne and whose mother taught herself how to paint at the age of 56, knew the importance of art.

“Art is in my soul,” said Wenzler, who in the past painted with acrylics and watercolor and now considers her garden her art. “Art is so important. From an early age, it’s a way an individual can express their feelings. It’s very important for our young people to have, not only hands-on art experiences, but also be exposed to music. I think Decatur is fulfilling that through the Carnegie, Orchestra Sul Ponticello and the Decatur Civic Chorus.”

During her run for Carnegie Carnival queen, Wenzler asked friends to vote for her by donating $5 to the Carnegie. Wenzler’s goal was to raise enough money for the Carnegie to continue to bring in talented artists displaying different mediums.

Like others involved in the Carnegie Carnival since its debut, Wenzler had no idea how popular the event would become.

Now, dozens of events hosted by prospective kings, queens, princes, princesses and canines fill the calendar from the Twelfth Night celebration, held Jan. 6, to the Carnegie Carnival. This year’s lineup includes a trivia contest, fashion show, wine tasting, drag queen Bingo, cornhole tournament, bowling tournament, steak cook-off and more.

Money raised through the Carnegie Carnival has allowed the Carnegie to display art from the Gee’s Bend Quilters, Fairhope sculpture artist Bruce Larsen, Birmingham folk artist Mose Tolliver and more. The funds also allowed the Carnegie to expand summer camps for children, bring art to the Somerville Library, plant a natural dye garden and install an exhibit at the Huntsville International Airport.

“The amount coming in is astounding and, along with aiding the Carnegie, it’s aiding other organizations in Decatur,” Wenzler said. “I hope this event continues to inspire the lives of all who enjoy the experience of Carnegie Carnival.”

Proceeds from Carnegie Carnival will benefit the Carnegie Visual Arts Center, CASA of North Alabama, which provides advocates for abused and/or neglected children, and Paws 52 Rescue, a foster-based animal rescue in Morgan County.

The 2023 Carnegie Carnival, which will take place Feb. 18, includes a children’s parade, a canine parade and an evening parade.

The Carnegie Carnival schedule includes the Carnival Frolic half-marathon at 7 a.m., Mardi Gras bluegrass bands beginning at noon at the Brick Deli and featuring the Calhoun Community College Jazz Band, Nitrate City, Blagburn and Diablo Sandwich and the Dr. Peppers, children’s games and art station at 12:30 p.m. at the Morgan County-Decatur Farmers Market, the prince and princess parade at 12:30 p.m., the canine parade at 2:30 p.m., a free showing of “The Princess and the Frog” at the Princess Theatre at 3 p.m., and the Carnegie Carnival parade at 6 p.m.