Tuesday, March 11, 2014
WALLA WALLA — You might have been operating under the impression that balloons are nothing more than helium-infused latex on a string.
That wouldn’t surprise Amber Clark. She thought that, too, not that long ago.
For more than two years, Walla Walla’s balloon baroness has been assembling balloon bouquets through her Up Balloon Boutique, delivering them for birthday wishes and holiday surprises to unsuspecting recipients.
But with a little creative freedom and a lot of artistry, Clark’s home-based business has launched into more than a delivery service. It provides the centerpieces and backdrops for special events and occasions, astonishing even her with how the decorative pieces can be sculpted into ornate backdrops and scene-stealers.
Clark has created tangly webs filled with spiders for Halloween festivities at the YMCA; a giant colorful chandelier at the Power House Theatre; sunny arches for grand opening celebrations; and elegant décor for weddings, baby showers and parties. She recently sculpted an array of more than 550 balloons to make a giant canopy over the dance floor for the Mom Prom in the ballroom of the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center. For St. Patrick’s Day, her next trick will be a giant beer mug at Journeys Pub.
How much more could there be? The sky’s the limit.
Long employed in a traditional office setting, Clark was inspired to branch out on her own and find her creative niche. The idea for balloons took off during a trip a few years ago to her hometown in Kansas. To her surprise, a local balloon business was expanding. She became intrigued and started looking into what could be done. She began researching, attending conferences, building a network of balloon professionals.
Last month she became one of 75 balloon artists who helped construct a five-story sculpture dubbed “The VERY Tall Tale of Jack and his Beanstalk” in the atrium of the Sibley Building in Rochester, N.Y.
The sculpture was the fifth “Balloon Manor,” a large-scale project that draws balloon artists from all over the world. Balloon Manor is the creation of Airigami, an art studio that specializes “in the fine art of folding air.” Founder and Creative Director Larry Moss estimates 50,000 balloons were used in the finished product.
“It was just impressive in seeing how everybody does stuff,” Clark said of the five-day trip.
Balloon artists came from Russia, Singapore, Australia and Spain for construction of the sculpture, Feb. 1-4. It was by far the largest artistic endeavor in which Clark had yet participated, and it inspired her to work toward certification as a balloon artist.
In a community where the nearest certified balloon artist is in Seattle, Clark said one of the biggest challenges to entrepreneurial success is opening people to the possibilities of what can be done.
“It’s been a lot of education,” Clark said.
That her business got off the ground when it did is its own success story. Unbeknownst to Clark, she launched Up in the midst of a national helium shortage.
“I seriously sat at my table with a pile of balloons and thought, ‘What can I do with this?’”
As did other balloon business operators, she began substituting nitrogen for helium. She used a combination of the two gases on her gold and purple canopy for the Mom Prom. Incidentally, a piece that large is estimated at $400 to $450.
With a team of volunteers called in for big orders, Clark comes up with most of her ideas from a home office that previously served as a very fancy coop for the chickens raised by her and her husband, Shawn, and their two daughters.
For her next trick, Clark hopes to incorporate balloon weaving into her pieces.
“It’s amazing just what you can do,” she said. “Even now I’m seeing things I want to learn. I want to practice huge stuff.”
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.