Knoxville Balloon Artist Wins International Award

Attending the World Balloon Convention (WBC) is exciting, but competing and then winning is exhilarating!   I am very proud of Rachel on her recent Medium Sculpture 2nd place award!   Not only was this her first sculpture competition, but by winning, she was the ONLY American balloon artist to win an award out of 29 awards–now that’s an accomplishment to be proud of!  WBC was attended by almost 1,000 balloon artists from around the world–in fact 47 countries were represented and numerous US states.  Rachel competed with master artists from Japan, Hong Kong, and Texas to name a few, but she didn’t win the award alone.

" I have to get the proportions correct." Rachel carefully measuring

In fact, we put together a very talented team of dedicated, creative balloons artists from 9 states across the country to assist make Rachel’s vision come alive.  These men and women worked non-stop for the 12 hours we had to build Rachel’s design and there is no way it would have completed without each of their talents, energy and knowledge.  We are so blessed to have had them on our team!

Rachel’s inspiration for the sculpture “Spring in the Smokies” came from the beauty that surrounds us daily by living in East Tennessee.  For 2 years she knew what she wanted to create–a scene of our Smoky Mountains.  Last fall, she began drawing her vision.  Then worked diligently for months to develop techniques that would bring the sculpture to life and incorporate balloons in a unique manner.  You should have seen the studio when she was practicing, there were strange objects often found lying around and other crew members would ask, “What’s that?”  To which the reply was, “Rachel’s working on designing….”  It became comical at times-a rock here, a flower there, then tree bark.

Finally, in February, she and I began working on the frame for the bear.  The first one looked like a wart hog.  The second one was much improved.  We attempted numerous techniques to make bear fur most of which we really disliked or found were too commonly used in our industry.  We wanted something different and new.  We thought we had it figured out after stumbling on a new technique but Rach wasn’t “digging it.” So back to the drawing board or should I say the “Let’s try this” process.  We tried several other techniques and finally again stumbled onto the one we wanted to use at competition.  Problem solved. NOT!  

award winning balloon bear

Down to the wire adding final touches on the bear

When we started competition, we discovered that our teammates couldn’t efficiently use the technique, so on the spot, Rachel came up with another new technique that we used.  BRILLIANT!  Suffice it to say it took 5 women who ended up with very sore fingers 6 hours to create the fur, while I was attaching the fur to the bear’s frame for a full 8 hours.  Grueling to say the least, especially when we got down to the wire we thought we were not going to have enough balloons–even though we used 1,855 balloons on the bear alone!!


balloon bear

Now isn't he precious!

The backdrop of the Smoky Mountain scene used the rest of the 6,500 balloons we used to create it.  The 9′ tall backdrop featured the green foliage of the mountains, with rocks that led to a mountain stream which our bear was heading for.  As in our mountains, there were pine and dogwood trees, with wildflowers hidden amongst the rocks and water.  Each of the leaves and bark on the trees were made individually, some double-stuffed (that means one balloon inside another).  The flowers were all created with individual balloon petals to create a very real likeness of the iris, bellwort, trillium and other flowers found in the Smokies.   There is so much more I can tell you about this sculpture, but I think photos will tell the story in a more interesting manner, so I’ll stop here and add in several photos.

The exception being that it is with much unending gratitude that we give to our team for giving us their time, talent, energy, advice, support and love.  Thanks Joette, Jani, Su, Pat, Janice, Phil, Linda, Joan, Joy, Chanequa, “B”, Teresa, Eddie, Anne, and moral support from Peggy!  No way this would have ever happened without you.  Thank you for blessing us so very much!

Su & Joy Creating the Smoky Mountain Backdrop Frame

Pat & Jani preparing tons of pine needles



Janice & Phil diligently making Fantasy Dogwood Flowers and Pine Tree Bark

How many of these do we need for the bear? Linda Zeller

Joette, Chanequa and Jani diligently making bear fur for 5 hours!

Rachel creating pine bark

Even the flowers were made from balloons

pine tree out of balloons

The dogwood tree takes form.

Close up of Dogwood Fantasy FlowersEven the flowers were made from balloons

Spring in the Smokies, an award-winning balloon sculpture

US Team photo

An exhausted but awesome team!

How Rachel REALLY felt about winning! Now that's a smile!