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Murray Journal

Hope floats, especially for Murray’s Clark Chamberlain

Dec 10, 2019 01:54PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Clark Chamberlain works on his latest parade float creation. (Photo courtesy Clark Chamberlain)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

If you watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or plan on watching the Rose Bowl Parade, you might be impressed to ask who comes up with all those float ideas. Murray is fortunate to have Clark Chamberlain, a designer of hundreds of floats, and he can tell you that it takes a little bit of craziness to come up with some of those awe-inspiring floats.

“About 30 years ago, I was working for Modern Display. They asked me, ‘Can you design parade floats?’ I needed the money, so I fibbed and said yes,” Chamberlain said. “So, it was kind of a fake it ’til you make it thing. I took that approach to a lot of new things back in the day.”

The majority of Chamberlain’s floats are for the Days of ’47 Parade. He also does a lot of the floats for small-town parades in northern Utah.

“I generally do a lot of floats for cities and towns, businesses, and a handful of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ (LDS) stakes for Days of ’47. I did a float last year for the local Sikh temple. It was way cool to learn about their culture and beliefs,” Chamberlain said. 

The Holladay native was inspired by his Olympus High School art teacher, Clyde Smith, who encouraged him to study art further at Utah State University. Chamberlain added, “But you don’t go to school to learn float design.”

“Somehow, along the way, I learned how to conceptualize and draw the craziness in my head. I like how my children described what I do: ‘Dad colors for a living.’”

Chamberlain’s float designs can range from fantastical fairytale lands to steampunk vibe, and he gets his inspiration from a variety of sources, including his own near-death experience.

“Seven years ago, I nearly died following heart bypass surgery. While recovering in the hospital, I was heavily medicated, and I hallucinated quite a bit. At that point, I thought I was in a cute kid’s room with fun characters on the walls. The next year I incorporated what I had imagined into a float design. Weird, huh?”

Still, clients and float committees can be a challenge to work with. According to Chamberlain, “Clients will often insist you include an element(s) in the design that is boring or ugly. Sadly, these objects have a tendency to consume a large portion of the float budget. Designing to please an entire float committee can be very difficult—lots of opinions and fragile egos.”

Instead, Chamberlain recommends that those tasked with coming up with float ideas stick with a few pointers that have helped his floats pick up numerous honors and awards. “Fun is better than serious. Colorful is better than reality. Simple is better than complex. Ignore the theme. It doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Oops, did I say that?”

This past year, Murray’s parade included two of his creations. The Murray Parkway LDS Stake’s float received several awards. (See Murray Journal’s “Murray neighbors hope float takes flight”) It was designed as a Jules Verne fantasyland of animals and children. He has designed a number of Murray City’s official float entries that appear in many Independence Day and city festival parades.

One of Chamberlain’s all-time favorite float experiences wasn’t necessarily in the designing of it, but in its coming apart.

“Designing a float is always fun but rarely funny. However, the funniest float-related experience was my wife driving the Rose Park Stake float after the parade was over. I was following her, and she was driving at speeds meant for normal traffic. Foam leaves, flowers, and floral sheeting were flying off the float, littering the streets like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs. I have never laughed so hard while yelling so loud.”