During the week between Christmas and New Year, one hundred of our closest relatives descended upon New Orleans for a big family reunion. I learned during this trip that rather than taking down the Christmas tree and relegating to it to the sidewalk, a true New Orleanian simply replaces the Christmas ornaments with Mardi Gras beads. The tree's next incarnation is symbolic of the seamless transition from Christmas and New Year's straight into Mardi Gras season. It seemed à propos then, that George Schiaffino led a small group of his cousins to Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World.
Blaine Kern is the self-proclaimed "Mr. Mardi Gras" and biggest float manufacturer in the world. His warehouse is open to the public and showcases the larger-than-life props used on Mardi Gras parade floats.
A closer examination of the props reveals the foam interior of these sculptures.
Our tour guide explained that production begins with the sculptured blanks.
The vast majority of the blanks are made of polystyrene because it is economical and easily tailored with a small chainsaw.
Next comes the layer of color. Sometimes texture is applied in sheets...
...but other times life is breathed into the characters with a masterful application of paint.
The characters are then installed into the float, complete with a throne for the guest of honor.
The warehouse has no shortage of float accessories to complete the look and also to hide the mechanics of the vehicle.
Floats are commissioned by Mardi Gras krewes. A krewe (pronounced "crew") is the organization that produces a parade and ball for the Carnival season. Historically, only the privileged were allowed to join a krewe. With a desire to serve the general populace, the Krewes of Endymion and Bacchus marked the dawn of a new era by dropping the requirement to be part of the New Orleans social elite. Blaine Kern rose to the occasion when Owen "Pip" Brennan, Jr., Captain of the Bacchus Krewe, told him: "We want the biggest. We want the best."
The Kerns work with the krewes, drawing inspiration from Hollywood pop culture...
...but also from the stories Blaine Kern heard in his childhood, like those from the Bible...
...or Asian folklore.
Source: Mardi Gras Unmasked