At home and on the road

Wow.  After a whirlwind week of travels, I have a lot to talk about.  Rather than addressing things chronologically, I'll hit the most important stuff first.

The new studio

The studio is almost ready! August 6 is going to be our Grand Opening. I've written a couple of times recently about my excitement at moving into a new studio space surrounded by other artists. Well, the time has come for all of you to show up now and visit. If you're in Rochester on August 6, 2010 from 6:00 - 9:00 PM, we're hoping you'll take the time to stop in, eat some food and drink some wine. Please RSVP so we can toss your name into the hat for door prizes that night.

A few people have already seen the studio in a not-quite-finished form. We had a sort of pre-grand opening balloon jam a few weeks ago. Thanks to all of the balloon artists that attended. The prize for greatest distance traveled to attend goes to Renate McIntosh and her kids, traveling from DE. (Well, they were on the road anyway, but it's fun to think they came just for the jam.)

The White House - Two years in a row

Balloon Crew at the White House - July 4, 2010

For the second year in a row (my third time), I was invited to be part of a team entertaining guests at the White House on July 4. The guests included honored members of the military and their families. The team I was on consisted this year of Todd Neufeld, Alberto Nava, Brian Asman, Laura Caldwell, John Reid, Robbie Furman and Lily Hayes. At something like 98 degrees on the South Lawn, this wasn't exactly an easy gig, but it's always fun being surrounded by smiling folks having a great time. The official White House video of the event even includes a shot of Laura twisting (58 seconds in).

Some history

A couple weeks ago I opened my mailbox and found a copy of the latest issue of Cabinet Magazine. This art and culture quarterly is absolutely beautiful and fun to read. This issue contains an article by Jonathan Allen devoted to balloons as an artistic medium. I'm thrilled that my work is featured prominently in the article, but I'll get to that part later. It was his mention of the "balloon world's Woodstock" (aka TJam 1999) in Austin, Texas that struck me as a such a timely reference. I actually read the article while on my way to teach as part of the current incarnation of that event: TJam on the Road. Reading his article made me want to share some of my memories.

TJam 1999 banquet

Jonathan does a great job of citing key points in the history of balloon art. Those interested should read his article in Cabinet. I'll just go into more of a personal bit for me. In 1991, the community that turned into was formed. Online communities were a new concept. Very quickly, there were discussions about how the members of this community could gather and actually meet face to face. At the time, Internet access was limited to mostly big academic institutions and a few very large companies. That meant that the majority of our members were college students. This isn't a demographic that typically has money to spend on hotel meeting rooms or, for that matter, ANY hotel rooms.

The conversation about meeting went on for a few years. Some of us managed to meet in small groups to jam with balloons. Balloon jams are, like the jams of jazz musicians, simply a gathering in which a few people experiment with their art in a collaborative fashion. In 1998, Tom Myers, then owner of T Myers Magic, proposed a mega jam. He would host it in Austin. He would invite everyone in the balloon world to his home for T & Jam. We'd finally all meet.  It would be cheap, to satisfy the wants of the poor students. (Many of the college students in the early discussions were successfully avoiding the real world by now attending grad school, so cheap was still important.) It would be our version of Woodstock.

TJam became a bi-annual convention for balloon artists and entertainers. Another convention, Twist & Shout, likewise happened bi-annually, alternating years with TJam until Tom decided to go a different way and replace the massive convention with TJam on the Road - a traveling convention/jam that made stops in cities around the US. Twist & Shout continued as a large gathering and became an annual event to fill the void left by TJam.

Tom retired from the business and sold T Myers Magic a few years ago. TJam on the Road went away when Tom did and was sorely missed by many. The new owners, Gus and Bettina Davis, received requests regularly to bring it back. This year they have. With the help of artist Robbie Furman and a collection of other teachers, the tour is back. Robbie is teaching and jamming in 40 cities in the continental US throughout the summer, accompanied by Italian artist Alberto Nava. A handful of other balloon industry celebrity artists are making guest appearances in different cities and offering full days of classes and more jamming.

I was honored to be part of the tour. I just completed two days of teaching in Fort Lee, NJ and Plymouth, MA. I saw a lot of old friends and met many new ones. I wish Robbie, Alberto, and all the other artists taking part a lot of fun and success on the rest of the summer tour and I encourage other artists to check out the remaining dates and join them if you can. I can't wait for TJam to stop in Rochester on August 27. The special guest artist for the tour stop here will be Don Caldwell. A meeting room is already booked for it, but we've been talking to Robbie about changing things up and hosting the stop in the new studio.  We'll keep you posted on that.

Back to Cabinet

OK. I admit it. I have a big ego.  It comes with the job. I get in front of people all the time and I have to like hearing myself talk or I wouldn't be able to cut it in this line of work. But more than that, I wait impatiently to read the next article that mentions my name. Knowing this article would include my work made me really happy. Then, seeing who else appeared in the article made me happier still. It was great seeing friends like Ralph Dewey mentioned, but the best part was that Ralph and I were compared to Leonardo Da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli. Now that was cool!