The weeks leading up to Pioneer Day are always crazy for Howard Wilson.
The 30-year veteran of Salt Lake City’s Modern Display has become a guru of float building, an art form that takes center stage at the annual Days of ‘47 parade where celebrating Utah’s pioneer spirit comes in the form of 27-foot-long floats.
Wilson and his staff this year created six floats for cities and businesses that will bounce along the parade route in downtown Salt Lake City on July 24.
His craftsmanship — along with the artistic flair of others who have built floats — will be on display at a preview showcasing the Days of ’47 floats at the Sandy South Towne Expo Center from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday.
“It is indeed a crazy time, a pressure time, but I certainly enjoy it,” said Wilson of preparing for the Days of ’47 parade. “I’ve created my own job in the 30 years that I’ve been here.”
One of his masterpieces this year is a young Paul Revere on horseback with a pop gun in hand and drums. Commissioned by the city of Sandy. the patriotic float will transport the city’s royalty.
Wilson estimates each float takes about 10 days to build. Costs range from $5,000 to $30,000 depending on the level of intricacy in decorations.
And just how much glitter goes into making Paul Revere sparkle as he moves down the street?
“An average float takes about 15 pounds of glitter,” Wilson chuckled. He added that a typical float uses 80 square yards of floral sheeting (that papier-mâché-looking drapery that covers floats), festooning and fringe along the base of floats to cover up wheels.
Float construction starts with a structure and base, where mechanics and props are first installed. Halfway through the process, the decorating crew becomes involved and starts creating a color scheme, he said.
The end result has drawn curious paradegoers to the Days of ’47 preview party for the past 18 years, said Tom Colligan.
Colligan, of Riverton, and his wife, Cheri, have organized the preview event, a chance for people to see floats up close and to enjoy the parade’s ambiance without Utah’s sweltering sun pounding down on them.
“A lot of folks aren’t able to go out in the heat of the day and watch the parade. We bring the parade indoors. If someone is disabled or homebound, this is a very good event for them,” said Colligan. “Little children really love it; we get quite a crowd.”
In fact, more than 25,0000 people are expected to attend the preview event, which will also feature face painting, clowns, balloon artists, marching bands and other entertainment.
Those who attend will be asked to vote for their favorite float — honors that will be announced the morning of the Days of ’47 parade.
For float builders like Wilson and parade fans like Colligan, the preview party is a chance to celebrate a job well-done. Wilson, who teaches hundreds of people from wards of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints how to build their own floats, said it’s fun to see the end result of a creative process that can take months, from brainstorming an idea to completing a finished product.
“It’s great to honor our pioneer heritage,” said Colligan.
If you go
P Creators and technicians behind the 2012 Days of ’47 Parade floats will appear at a preview party Monday and Tuesday at Sandy’s South Towne Expo Center, 9575 S. State St.
• The event, which is free and will be held from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., allows those who attend to vote for their favorite floats.