With the first big weekend of Carnival parades upon us, local float builders will be working almost nonstop. Since the 1950s, Blaine Kern's float-building empire, now led by his son Barry, has constructed floats for the most parades, including all the biggies: Muses, Endymion, Bacchus, Orpheus, Zulu and Rex. Before the Kerns, another father-son team, George and Henry Soulie, were the men who built Mardi Gras.
According to Carnival historian and parade artistic designer Henri Schindler, George Soulie was a native of Paris and for many years his family constructed decor for pageants and parades there. He came to New Orleans in the 1870s and began a sculpting and papier mache business. One of his first jobs was constructing art for the 1873 Comus parade, with its satirical theme depicting the "Missing Links to Darwin's Origin of Species." When George Soulie died in 1919, his son Henry took over the business, along with partner Harry Crassons. Soulie and Crassons continued to produce floats for Comus, Rex, Momus and Proteus well into the 1950s. Crassons died in 1953. Soulie died in 1958, right about the time a young Blaine Kern was making a name for himself in the same trade.