300 Blaine Kern

Blaine Kern works on a float.

Historic New Orleans Collection

Floats on garbage wagons and a mural in a hospital were the humble beginnings of Blaine Kern’s rise as the foremost float builder in the city — and maybe the world.

To pay his mother’s medical bills, Kern offered to paint a mural in a hospital, catching the eye of a surgeon and a captain of the Krewe of Alla. Alla asked Kern to design and build the floats for their krewe. Kern Studios was created in 1947. The floats caught the attention of Rex and other krewes and Kern’s business grew.

Rex 1955, Darwin S. Fenner, sent Kern to Europe to study art in Italy, France and Spain. Kern came back with ideas that fueled float colors and designs. Kern also built custom props, such as an animated King Kong that caught the attention of Walt Disney.

Though Kern rejected an offer to work for Disney, the company later became one of Kern Studios’ biggest clients. Kern also changed the business of Mardi Gras by allowing krewes to rent, rather than buy the floats. That option allowed Bacchus and others to parade. The business is now run by Kern’s son, Barry.