Houma Artist Helps Make Mardi Gras, Commuting To New Orleans

HOUMA, LA (AP) — Carnival parades will roll for two weeks starting Feb. 6, but the season is constantly on the mind of one Houma artist.

         Mark Olivier, 44, is the prop shop manager at Blaine Kern Studios, which designs and builds Mardi Gras floats for many of the parades in New Orleans and surrounding areas.

         Along with his team of about 20 sculptors, painters and papier-mâché artists, Olivier creates the giant figures that decorate the floats in some of south Louisiana's biggest Mardi Gras parades.

         The krewes of Zulu, Bacchus, Endymion, Rex, Muses, Tucks and Caesar in New Orleans and Hercules, Aphrodite and Cleopatra in Terrebonne Parish are among 25 parades for which the company is creating floats this year. They'll work on 550 floats,

         "As much as we try to plan to get everything lined up, the workload is always around the clock," Olivier said.

         "We're all working late hours to finish with last-minute details. Parade day is the parade day, and everything has to be done that day."

         Once Halloween passes, Olivier begins working late nights and Saturdays, said his wife of 23 years and high school sweetheart, Angie Olivier. After Christmas, she said, he works every day until Mardi Gras.

         "Halloween really kicks it off, but the day after Mardi Gras, it usually gets back to normal," Angie Olivier said. "He dropped 15-20 pounds during his first year."

         Mark began working in the fiberglass fabrication department at Kern Studios in December 2003. After three days, company officials asked him to take over as prop shop manager.

         While his major goal is to create the world's most extravagant constructions, the work performed through Kern Studios, which takes place inside Mardi Gras World along the Mississippi River near the Morial Convention Center, is on display for thousands of visitors year-round.

         Next to the Audubon Zoo and Aquarium of the Americas, Mardi Gras World is among the city's top destinations for tourists.

         "There are tours every day," Mark Olivier said. "People come through daily — school groups, senior groups, you name it. Everything we do in the shop is open to the world."

         Kern Studios also creates floats for the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade, the McAllen Holiday Parade in Texas, the Krewe of Boo Halloween Parade in New Orleans and Mardi Gras parades at Universal Studios in Orlando.

         Interested in the creative world since he was a child, Mark Olivier, who worked nine years in the oilfield, said he likely would not have followed his passion for art without the encouragement his parents, Dennis and Paula Olivier.

         Until it closed about three years ago, Mark Olivier's father owned Terrebonne Hardware on Grand Caillou Road in Houma, where Mark Olivier's passion to create was born.

         "My dad was a handyman; there was nothing he couldn't build or manufacture," he said. "My dad was good at problem-solving and creative solutions. My mother was very artistic and talented at painting. I saw how colors worked with my mother, and I was fascinated with the idea of building things."

         Mark Olivier received a bachelor's degree in art from Nicholls State University in 2002, and said the faculty there also encouraged him to develop his skills.

         Along with several other members of Nicholls' Art Department, Mark Olivier helped refurbish a number of statues at the Chauvin Sculpture Garden. He also has repaired and painted statues at St. Bernadette and Holy Rosary Catholic churches in Houma. He is a parishioner at the latter.

         Angie Olivier said her husband chose to commute to New Orleans from Houma because their lives are so ingrained in their family and community.

         "We were both born and raised here, and both of our families are here," she said. "We're very involved in our families and our church. We were even baptized, confirmed and married in the same church."

         – by AP/ Reporter Kate Mabry with The Courier

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