This Is How Those Crazy Mardi Gras Floats Are Made
Tina McCrosky, 48, and Ali McCrosky, 27, work at Kern Studios, the go-to float builder in New Orleans for 83 years. We wanted to know more...
On Crafting Their Careers
Tina McCrosky: "When our family moved to New Orleans in 1993, we took a tour of Kern Studios, which builds about 70 percent of the floats that travel through Mardi Gras. Two years later, I saw that the studio was hiring and applied. My painting portfolio basically consisted of handmade Halloween decorations, but I got the job! I would bring my daughter, Ali, to the prop shop with me, and she started working there part-time in high school. I never thought it'd be her career, too."
Ali McCrosky: "I actually thought I'd be a forensic anthropologist in the FBI. But I started working at Kern full-time nearly six years ago—and I have no plans to leave!"
On Making Mardi Gras Magic
Ali: "We help sculpt and paint items on the floats. Each prop, from a nine-foot statue of Gene Simmons to a caricature of Hillary Clinton, is crafted from four-inch-thick Styrofoam sheets. I use a kitchen knife to carve embellishments—mermaid scales, a swan's beak—and I smooth things out with a horse comb and sandpaper."
Tina: "Then, once it's covered in a layer of papier-mâché, I prime the piece with white paint and draw the general design. I add basic color first, before creating details and shading. If I'm working on a figure with eyes, I highlight the pupils last. That's what brings the prop to life."
Ali: "The parades begin in January, but it takes about a year to prep the floats for Mardi Gras—there are more than 400! On the parade route, I trail the floats with an emergency kit—a screw gun, batteries, paint, duct tape, that sort of thing. I need to be able to make any repairs, from touching up a prop to reattaching flowers that the audience pulled off."
On Occupational Hazards
Ali: "The Kern Studios building houses up to 750 props, so it doubles as a popular tourist destination. Every half hour or so, a tour with anywhere from 20 to 50 people comes by. It can be distracting—especially when someone says, 'You missed a spot!'"