San Rafael Valley, AZ ~~ Photo by Bill Haas

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


For most New Orleans krewes, building of their Mardi Gras float begins here at Blaine Kern Studios; roughly 80% of them are created here. Its artisans also create floats for Universal Studios in Florida and theme parks, parades, casinos and amusement parks around the world, keeping artists busy 52 weeks a year.
This way to the tour. First we're treated to a video of the Kerr studio's history and projects accompanied by complementary coffee and King Cake; then we get to try on headdresses and costumes and giddily take pictures of our silly selves before entering the cavernous studios and then finally arriving at the gargantuan warehouse that stores floats from years past.
Just a FEW tools of the trade: glue, styrofoam, serrated knives, heat guns, sandpaper.
It could start here for ideas, details and getting the color just so.
Sometimes this year's figures have been "recycled." This one is getting a makeover, in the papier mache artists' corner. Bubble wrap, foam sheets and styrofoam are popular raw materials, followed by layers of papier mache. Fiberglass is also used to create these sculptures, but while it's a more durable material, it can't be as readily reused!
She will eventually look like this -- only she'll be about ten or twelve feet tall!
Some of the props from past Mardi Gras floats might be culled from the "graveyard," disassembled, and fragments will be reworked to fit into a different montage for the current year's crop of floats.
For example, these horns and hand were taken from sculptures from previous parades then reworked to be integrated with the character on the 2010 float pictured here.
The artists work from detailed drawings or photographs.
For new sculptures, planks of styrofoam are stacked and glued in a specific order. Can you guess what will eventually emerge from these styrofoam stacks?
How about this one? C'mon now -- this one's easy. Use your imagination!
This one's a bit trickier.
OK, now do you see it?
After they've been glued, shaved, mache'd, and sanded, the sculptures are ready for the painters.
For the size, amazing, painstakingly detailed.
Some pieces just need to be patched and touched up.
This artist had just finished hand painting with a tiny brush incredibly delicate detail and shading on a giant Treble Clef.
Eventually, we arrive "backstage" to wonder at the dazzling, fanciful mega floats from years past!
Costumed revelers stand behind these hooks where thousands and thousands of strings of beads are hung then tossed into cheering crowds yelling "Throw me something Mister"!!!!
Another creative placement of the hooks.
Some floats are strung with lights; others use copious amounts of glitter and gold leaf...
...the gaudier the better!
The floats are pulled by tractors...
...and are well furnished with all modern conveniences -- err, I mean necessities!
Here's lookin' at ya, kid!
laissez le bon temp roulez!

Tomorrow, the Blaine Kerr Studio creative team will be abuzz with activity laying the groundwork for 2011's
Mardi Gras floats.