printed from AmericanProfile.com on 2/28/2008

Inflating Art and Spirits

by Laurie Mercer
When 3-year-old Morgan Moss watches her dad, Larry, put his vintage tuxedo jacket over his purple shirt, adjust his lilac-colored suspenders and add a silly-looking red hat, she usually starts crying. "When the balloons come out, she knows I’m leaving her to go to work, and she really bawls," Moss says.

Moss, 34, usually makes people smile with his wildly inspired sculptures made entirely of balloons. While his work clothes are as silly as Charlie Chaplin’s, Moss is serious about his inflatable art, which has grown to gigantic proportions, setting world records and raising money for charitable causes.

"Balloons get attention, and they are fun," says Moss, of Henrietta, N.Y. (pop. 39,028), who was inspired as a child while watching balloon artists twist balloons during a Barnum on Broadway show in New York City. "I was hooked," he recalls.

In 2000, Moss and a team of balloon artists fashioned 41,000 oblong balloons into two 25-foot-tall soccer players battling on balloon-made Astroturf in Spain. The giant sculpture, measuring 25-feet high and 80-feet wide, got Moss listed in the Guinness Book of Records for creating the world’s largest non-round balloon sculpture. And in 2002, Moss and helium-balloon pilot John Ninomiya teamed up for the first-ever airborne latex balloon sculpture. Their smiling octopus, made of 40,000 balloons, soared over Sodus Bay, near Rochester, N.Y., and eventually deflated on a boathouse roof.

Moss started twisting balloons when he was 10 or 11. By age 15 he was earning money creating balloon animals at birthday parties. His visions of balloon art took hold by age 18. Balloon performing even helped Moss pay his tuition at the University of Rochester, where he earned a degree in computer science.

Once he started his computer career, however, he says he felt deflated working in a windowless office. In 1997, Moss married Judy, an engineer eager to financially support the couple while her husband transformed his hobby into a career. Judy still calls those days her "contribution to the arts."

In 1992, Moss created the first website for balloon enthusiasts. By tapping interest in his performance art through the Internet, Moss found work around the world. Today, he earns a living creating his elaborate inflatable artwork and selling books, CD-ROMs and videos on the subject.

From the beginning, a non-profit group called Young Audiences of Rochester has hired Moss to perform his signature act, in which he demonstrates to school children how simple, yet functional, screws, levers and pulleys made entirely with balloons can "catch" a teacher during a giggled-filled grand finale.

"There isn’t a kid who can’t learn from balloons and Moss," says Cathie Wright, Young Audiences’ director of development.

Moss’ balloon art also is used to infuse fun into charitable causes. Last Halloween, Moss helped raise nearly $34,000 for research at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center in Rochester by building Balloon Manor—a 10,000-square-foot, haunted but non-scary all-balloon house—with the Greater Rochester Jaycees, 400 volunteers and about a dozen out-of-town volunteer balloon artists.

"He’s amazing," says Kim Ziegler, the center’s assistant director for special events. "Staff and volunteers can’t wait until 2006 so they can volunteer again."

Visitors paid $10 for the balloon mansion experience, and some were taken on a wheelchair-guided tour by Judy Moss, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma shortly after Morgan’s birth in 2003.

Publicity from Balloon Manor led Moss to his next corporate assignment—again a message of hope. For an enthusiastic crowd pleaser at a Party City store’s grand opening in Henrietta, Moss twisted a plump and pink Valentine teddy bear—complete with bow and arrow—that he delivered to a nearby Ronald McDonald House, which provides lodging for away-from-home parents visiting their hospitalized children.

"It’s not just about setting records and numbers," Moss says. "It’s about satisfaction in what you do and the pleasure you give others. It’s hard to look at any balloon and have the blues at the same time."

Log on to www.airigami.com to learn more.

Laurie Mercer is a freelance writer in Honeoye Falls, N.Y.

first appeared: 10/2/2005