NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - 93-year-old Blaine Kern has died. Kern founded “Blaine Kern Artists”, responsible for designing, building and staging most of the region’s largest carnival parades.
His wife of 18-years, Holly Wood Kern posted to Facebook last night a long sorrowful message about her husband’s death. She says he passed away peacefully at their home.
He was widely considered “Mr. Mardi Gras.” Blaine Kern, who had a small dream and a love of drawing, was a visionary and became one of the premier float builders in the world.
FOX 8 Carnival Historian Arthur Hardy spoke to Kern in 2017. At the time, he said, “I always felt in my head and in my heart, it sounds corny, but that I had things to do. I don’t even know what it was. I always felt like I was trying to go to the next step beyond.”
Kern’s talents as an artist were recognized at a young age. He was sent to Europe to learn from master craftsmen. He brought back what he learned to the states, turning down a job offer from Walt Disney himself to start his own business in New Orleans.
“I stayed out there a couple of days, I came home and I went to go see the captain of Rex. Captain, I’m going to Hollywood, I’m going to work for Walt Disney. He said son you go to Hollywood, you are going to be a little bitty fish in a big pond. If you can help Mardi Gras grow you’ll be a big fish in a big pond. So I took his advice,” Kern said.
It started small in 1947 and Kern eventually rented out floats to Mardi Gras krewes. He’s heralded for helping Endymion and Bacchus get rolling in the 1960′s. By 1984, Kern opened Mardi Gras World as part of the World’s Fair to show America the behind the scenes look at his artistic vision.
Throngs of tourists pass through each day, getting an up close look at the work that goes into building a Mardi Gras float. Kern’s small business eventually turned into a multimillion dollar company, responsible not only for Mardi Gras floats but for helping to design parts of Disney World and creating those cows you see on Chick fil A billboards across the country.
Blaine Kern’s touch is everywhere.
During our interview with Kern in 2017, he talked about the expansion of his company, saying, “My son Barry, he called me. He said Daddy we’re doing a parade in Mexico ... we’re doing one here ... he’s now all over the world, all over the world. All of a sudden we’re in demand.”
But Kern’s Cinderella story wasn’t all a fairy tale. For years, he weathered a very public falling out with his son. In 2015, he lost control of Blaine Kern Artists after Barry Kern took him to court alleging Blaine was mismanaging the company. The first family of Mardi Gras eventually patched things up, with Barry at the helm and Blaine serving as an international ambassador for carnival.
In his later years, Blaine Kern turned author, with his wife Holly, penning children's books. It was a different way for him to get his creative juices flowing. But what he will be most remembered for? His undeniable artistic talent that single handedly created the Mardi Gras we know today.
When asked if he could have possibly dreamed way back when, of the success he would eventually see, Kern modestly replied, “No, I could not.”
Blaine Kern’s dream will live on and generations to come will light up with delight at the whimsical, one of a kind, over the top floats only the mind of Blaine Kern could come up with.