Float artistBlaine Kern Sr.

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In 1932, Kern’s father, artist and sign painter Roy Kern, founded Kern Studios to build floats for the New Orleans Mardi Gras parades. The first one was built on the chassis of a mule-drawn garbage wagon. Blaine was only 5, but absorbed his father’s passion and learned the skills as Roy gained worldwide fame building floats, as well as designing themes for amusement parks, museums, sports teams, and municipalities all around the globe. Blaine Sr. took over the business in 1947, and like his father traveled to Europe to apprentice under the world’s leading float and costume makers.

Blaine Kern enjoying a New Orleans Saints game in an undated family photo.

Blaine built Kern Studios into the leading float maker in New Orleans, building nearly 90 percent of all the floats in New Orleans’ famous Mardi Gras parades. In the off season, the company built floats and animated figures for Universal Studios, Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, various New York City parades, and other parades in France, Korea, and Japan. “The average person watching the parade has no idea what it took for that float to get built, and then be riding down the street,” said Chris Richier, who worked for Blaine for 30 years, rising to vice president. The family company is now run by the third generation of Kerns, Blaine’s son Barry, who has already brought his son, Fitz, to keep it going for at least another generation. “What Mardi Gras is today,” declared New Orleans’ Mayor LaToya Cantrell, “owes much to [Blaine Kern] and his imagination, his larger-than-life personality, and his relentless creativity.” Indeed, Blaine was known in the city as “Mr. Mardi Gras”. She said Blaine developed double-decker floats, multi-unit floats, and animatronics that are popular in floats today. Blaine died June 25, at 93.

A Kern multi-unit float at New Orleans’ 2015 Mardi Gras. (Photo: Kern Studios)

From This is True for 28 June 2020