“RIBS” FOR BALLOON SCULPTURE – How It Began
By Graham Rouse
The Very Beginning
“RIBS” for balloon sculpture began with “Fantasy Flowers”. Balloon Fantasy Flowers are among the most popular variations of this inside-out approach. This approach can be traced back to at least the spring of 1983 in Raleigh, North Carolina in the United States of America.
Graham Rouse had recently bought a bag of those “twisty” balloons at the drug store around Valentine’s Day. The bag had a picture of a balloon dog and instructions for how to make one. Graham liked to make things, and he thought it would be fun to make a balloon dog and add it to a greeting card for a girl friend in who was sick. The project was a success, but for Graham it was only the beginning of a lifelong love of stretching latex and stretching people’s imaginations.
Shaping Balloons From Inside Out
It was not long after that first balloon dog that Graham was putting more than air into the balloons. He stretched them into all sorts of shapes and effects with water and wire and miscellaneous objects as well. He used up a closet full of those wire clothes hangers that used to be so popular before plastics took over the market.
Today, (2010) it seems that internal structures in balloons, and balloon flowers in particular, are not unusual. Wires inside flowers are used mostly to form flower petals, but Graham used them first for the flower stems. After all, if a flower petal deflates you usually have others. If the stem deflates without the internal structure, the whole flower goes down.
Also, the bulk of inflated petals filled out a flower arrangement quickly and nicely. The problem was that the bulk of fully inflated balloon stems was too much for normal flower vases and bases. Internal structuring allowed Graham to create thin, elegant flower stems with underinflated balloons. This way more balloon flowers could go into a vase intended for live flowers.
These stems could be bent so as to postion the flowers as desired. The reinforced stems held their places much longer, so the flowers stayed in their intended arrangement much longer.
Another characteristic common to early Rouse Fantasy Flowers was that internally structured balloon elements retained some air volume. Today, I do not see that so often. Perhaps it is only a personal bias, but I prefer to see balloon flowers with the skin stretched tight and not wrinkled. I also prefer to see air pressure inside the balloon. That little bulge that says to me “balloon” instead of “plastic”.
Three Key Players
Graham was not the only one involved in the beginnings of internal balloon structures. There are two other people that were especially important to the first years of Fantasy Flowers.
Below is a chronology that lists some relevant activities of these three key players during the first seven and a half years of Fantasy Flowers. They were Graham Rouse, Ken Fetgatter and Gary Wells.
1. Graham Rouse,
who was first with Fantasy Flowers (1983), comes from the balloonist side of the aisle. He coined the term “Fantasy Flowers” in 1985. He started in the balloon business with balloon flowers and continues to use and teach them.
2. Ken Fetgatter,
who was probably first with Fantasy Flowers on the Florist side of the aisle (1986), has focused mainly on floral markets and is not generally known among balloonists.
3. Gary Wells,
by virtue of
- his early entry into Fantasy Flowers, (1986)
- his crossover position as florist and balloonist,
- the excellent quality of his work and
- the promotion of Pioneer Balloon Company,
has the name and style most often associated with the term “Fantasy Flowers” among balloonists in the 1990’s.
In The First Seven And A Half Years
Here are my chronology notes:
— Graham Rouse, then of ABC Creations in Raleigh, NC, made his first internally wire structured balloon flowers in February/March of 1983.
— Graham Rouse published a series of greeting cards for balloon creations called the “Rainbow Collection”. He coined the term “Fantasy Flowers” for balloon flowers in the story/greeting titled “A Cup Of Cheer”..
(1985 greeting from the Rouse Rainbow Collection)
CUP OF CHEER
The fragrance of color, the taste of a smile, the scent of laughter and the sound of joy fill the cups of cheer served in the Garden Of Friendship at The Other End Of The Rainbow. Sometimes their colors seem to laugh out loud and their fragrance appears to dance among the sculptured forms of latex and air. Sometimes they smile in yellow or lavender or green. And, their joys echo like songs of pink or peach or pastel blue. Always they posses a touch of the magic that delivers good cheer to those open hearts who drink fully of their floral bouquet.
This bouquet of Fantasy Flowers is now sent to you all the way from The Other End OF The Rainbow, with loving wishes that its magic will enter your heart and add a Cup of Cheer to your days.
Copyright G. Rouse 1985
— Graham Rouse was guest instructor for a series of classes in the Art Department of Meredith College in Raleigh, NC where he taught internal structures in balloons in order to make abstract sculptures. This was followed by an artist’s reception and photo exhibit of his balloon work and then a public exhibit of student work from the classes.
— Ken Fetgatter, AIFD (American Institute of Floral Designers), Bartlett, IL made his first internally structured balloon flowers.
— Graham Rouse Fantasy Flower was published in the May issue of Balloons Today magazine.
— Graham Rouse internally structured abstract balloon design was published on the cover of the August issue of Balloons Today magazine.
— Graham Rouse taught internal structuring techniques at Unique Concepts Balloon Convention.
— Ken Fetgatter taught internal wire structuring to make balloon flowers at an AIFD convention.
— Graham Rouse taught internal structuring techniques at the West Coast Symposium of the National Association of Balloon Artists.
— Graham Rouse taught internal structuring techniques at IBAC (known then as the Balloon and Singing Telegram Convention) and made abstract versions as awards given by the convention to competition winners.
— Probably it was in this year that Gary Wells and Ken Fetgatter first shared ideas on internal structuring of balloons with each other.
— Graham Rouse exhibited abstract, internally structured balloon sculptures along with glass sculptures in a local art gallery.
— Graham Rouse had a three week, one man, public art gallery exhibit of balloon sculpture at the city art gallery in Rocky Mount, NC including internally structured balloon designs.
— Graham Rouse taught internal structuring techniques at the National Association of Balloon Artists Convention.
— Graham Rouse taught internal structuring techniques at National Association of Balloon Artists Convention.
— Gary Wells and Ken Fetgatter did a joint presentation on Fantasy Flowers at AIFD convention.
— Balloons Today magazine published an article in August of 1990 confirming Graham Rouse as inventor of internal structuring of balloons and sharing his suggestions toward “perfecting” the technique.
After these first seven and a half years of Fantasy Flowers, internally structured balloon designs by many artists began to show up in trade publications and balloon design competitions. The techniques and diversity of uses for internal structuring of balloons have multiplied greatly in the ensuing years.
The name, “RIBS”, comes from two sources:
1. “RIBS” is descriptive
of this approach. Ribs in human beings and very many animals are internal structures that shape and support the outer skin and define the outer form around air chambers (the lungs).
2. “RIBS” is also an acronym
for “Rouse Internal Balloon Structures”. Graham Rouse is the one who invented this approach of using internal structures in balloons to create balloon sculptures.
We will be exploring the full range of RIBS in balloon business, balloon art and the balloon arts movement around the world. We look forward to having you with us and to having you contribute your comments, your knowledge, your skills and your pictures as well.
Please use the “Leave a Reply” area below to share your comments, questions, suggestions, etc..
Here are links to other references for Fantasy Flowers and RIBS that may be of interest to you:
- World’s First Fantasy Flowers is a post on Making It With Balloons Blog by the inventor of Fantasy Flowers.
- Maybe “Blue Ice” is in Making It With Balloons Network and includes reflections on a RIBS balloon sculpture.
- “Sphere Of Lites” is in Making It With Balloons Network and ponders this RIBS sculpture “Crystal Ball Revealing Who We Are”.
- “Nite Lites” is in Making It With Balloons Network and shows off the very first RIBS “Lite Sculpture”.
- “RIBS of Gold” is in Making It With Balloons Network and it shares musings on ancient rituals suggested by a RIBS sculpture today.
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© Graham Rouse 2012