Balloons have long been a source of marvel in American Culture. From the hot-air balloon that carried The Wizard away from Oz, to the ornate, decorative varieties spotted at weddings, these air-filled creations have delighted for centuries.
Labor and delivery nurse Diane Cross of Red Bud, Ill., the Balloonatic RN is keeping that tradition of delight alive as one of the metro-areas premier balloon artists.
But Cross doesnt just make your run-of-the-mill latex puppies and swords. She creates intricate, imaginative designs-from small wearable bracelets to giant, life-sized sculptures-with a speed and precision that astonishes nearly anyone who sees her for the first time.
I remember seeing someone doing balloons at Six Flags and they made one into a lion and I was fascinated, she said. So I got on the internet and bought some balloons and videos.
Crosss actual balloon career began five years ago when Touche Hospital in Centreville--where she has worked for 26 years--was hosting their 50th Anniversary party and needed someone to either do face paint, magic, or create balloon animals.
With no experience, Cross accepted the challenge. Little did she know, that was the beginning of an unfolding adventure filled with literally thousands and thousands of balloons.
And then my neighbor had me over and their brother, who is 80 years old and a clown taught me some basics and within a month I was doing balloons for the hospital, said Cross. Six months later I was in California at my first convention. I went there and fell in love.
Cross is part of a close-knit community of local and national artists that may be divided by specialty (such as balloon twisters and decorators), but is supportive of the whole.
She meets once per month in St. Louis with The Arch Twisters, a group of about 20-30 other balloon artists, where they share ideas, pool resources, and mentor budding new artists.
Balloon people are happy to share their ideas with you, she said. You can just say youre thinking about doing balloons and they will talk you through all of the silly mistakes you make in the beginning. We really encourage everybody that wants to do it.
Crosss talent regularly takes her all over the country to places like Boston, New York, Denver, Florida, Las Vegas, Arizona, and her native Ohio for conventions and competitions.
She has been featured on local news programs like Great Day St. Louis and has worked with international teams of balloon artists on collaborative projects. Her gift has also afforded her the opportunity to meet people from all over the world.
I get emails and texts from all over the world, she said. We had a 25 year-old kid from Australia that was going to one of the conventions and he was staying with balloon people across the country so he came and stayed with us, said Cross. So I took him to see the ketchup bottle and the Arch. I have met some wonderful people.
And although the travel and sense of community is nice, Cross finds her greatest fulfillment comes from the connections made with the children and adults that marvel at her work.
Showing other people what can be made with a balloon is the best part, she said. One guy told me You really make those animals come alive. And so I like to create and see everyone smile because its so easy and so fun for me and Im also always learning more.
The best way to witness Crosss ingenuity and creativity is to see her in person at one of the multitude of events in her busy schedule.
Her technique and designs are dazzling and breathtaking all at once. Whether its the cuddly, charismatic animals or the artsy, sophisticated adult themes, Crosss exceptional talent is demonstrated by the awe and exasperation in the faces of fans from ages 4 to 40.
I am a crafty person and I need some type of artistic outlet and this has been totally amazing, she said.
See Dianes portfolio at www.balloonaticRN.balloonhq.com