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Harnessing air, history
Crew twists and turns balloons into dinosaur
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Workers continue to create a balloon sculpture of an acrocanthosaurus — a dinosaur scientists believe lived in the Mesozoic era more than 60 million years ago — Saturday at the Virginia Museum of Natural History as part of Earth Day observances. They began the sculpture Friday and will finish it today. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, April 21, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Despite all the air blowing and rubber twisting involved in making balloon sculptures, the hardest part is not the work itself, according to Larry Moss.

Rather, it is “knowing the sculpture you create is temporary,” Moss said, since balloons begin to deflate within days after they are blown up.

“But there are cameras,” he said with a smile, adding that photographs help sculptors remember their creations forever.

Moss, of Rochester, N.Y., is the founder and creative director of Airigami, a group practicing “the fine art of folding air” in balloons to create sculptures, according to his business card.

He and six assistants are in Martinsville this weekend to produce a balloon sculpture of an acrocanthosaurus — a dinosaur scientists believe lived in the Mesozoic era more than 60 million years ago — for the Virginia Museum of Natural History as part of Earth Day observances.

“It’s pretty impressive what they do,” said museum Executive Director Joe Keiper. “It’s so simple, yet it’s so creative and elegant.”

When it is finished late this afternoon, the sculpture is expected to be about 20 feet wide and 10 feet tall. It will include trees and leaves showing the type of environment in which acrocanthosauruses lived.

“We work long hours to make sure we pull off something pretty amazing,” Moss told Drewry Mason Elementary School students visiting the museum.

The sculpture’s name will be “Elastic Park,” a play on the title “Jurassic Park,” the popular science fiction movie from the 1990s.

Moss brought with him about 10,000 balloons to create the dinosaur. Based on parts that had been created by Friday afternoon, most of the sculpture will be made from brown and peach-colored balloons, with white ones used for teeth.

However, he is not sure how many balloons actually will be used.

He and his assistants are using a sketch, but how the sculpture will look when it is finished will depend somewhat on ideas that he and others have while creating it, he said.

It will be “as accurate (of a dinosaur depiction) as the balloons allow it to be,” Moss added.

Different sized balloons will be used in “Elastic Park.” Some will be fully inflated, others will not.

Museum visitors are invited to help create the acrocanthosaurus. No special skills are required.

Practice makes perfect, or as near to perfect as a balloon sculpture can be.

“We’ll give them tasks they are comfortable with” at first, such as inflating balloons or tying knots, Moss said.

As people feel more comfortable handling balloons, they seem to feel more at ease about getting involved in designing sculptures, he said.

Anyone wanting to see the completed acrocanthosaurus should plan to visit the museum early this week. In a few days, the balloons probably will start to deflate on their own.

Once the balloons are fully deflated, they will be composted, according to museum officials. Rubber comes from trees, so it is biodegradable.

Even if a balloon deflates or pops after it becomes part of a sculpture, it does not necessarily have to be removed.

“Nothing in nature’s absolutely perfect,” Moss said. “Little flaws add to the final design” and may improve what was originally envisioned.

Moss has been making balloon sculptures since the early 1980s, but he has been doing it as his full-time career since 1997.

Although he has made dinosaurs before, this is his first acrocanthosaurus, which is why he is using a sketch.

He enjoys using balloons for art because often there are “no preconceived notions” as to what a sculpture’s appearance ultimately will be, he said.

That seems to be why many people find it interesting, he said.

Moss’ balloon-sculpting skills mostly are self-taught. There were not many books on his type of artistry when he started making sculptures, but more have since been written, he said.

He gets inspiration from other works of art. For instance, his business card shows a sculpture he created based on the painting “Whistler’s Mother.”

The acrocanthosaurus will not be the largest sculpture Moss has made. For instance, he once created “The Fantastic Flying Octopus” out of about 20,000 balloons. It was an aircraft powered by wind, helium and an eight-member flight crew, according to his website.

He even has made clothing out of balloons that has been worn by fashion models.

“I have a fascination with things that move,” Moss said.

Along that line, he someday would like to attempt to create an animated movie. It has been done with clay figures, he said, so why not try it with balloon figures?

He also has a dream of creating a working roller coaster out of balloons, he said.


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