Tahoe/Truckee-based balloon artist draws inspiration out of thin air
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — With a few huffs and puffs, Sean Rogers breathes, twists and squeaks to life the caricatures and whatchamacallits that make up one’s imagination.
It’s not the rudimentary wiener dogs, single-stem flowers and pirate swords you might be thinking, all of which Rogers can tie in his sleep.
It’s the more intricate, life-sized creations – like his collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, his Thomas the Tank Engine display, and his chopper-style motorcycle – that blow beginner balloon twisters out of the water.
“Whatever you can dream, I can build,” said the born-and-raised Virginian. “I’ll twist whatever someone wants, but I don’t like to put really simple designs on my menu because I like to push myself to try new things.”
A TWISTED FATE
The first single-balloon animal Rogers ever twisted was, in fact, the elementary dog, which he mastered within one week by studying a few YouTube videos.
“I didn’t twist my first balloon until I was almost 30,” said Rogers. “I was working as a flare bartender at the time in Orlando, just outside of Disney, and a guy who was doing pretty basic balloon animals told me how much he made in a three-hour shift, and I thought he was definitely lying.”
Unremittingly curious by nature, Rogers took it upon himself to test that theory, and, with only a handful of basic balloon animal twists under his belt, he hit the restaurant circuit.
As it turns out, the preceding balloon artist wasn’t clowning around.
“I made as much money as I did bartending and I worked half the time,” he said. “But the best part was, I was making people smile, which doesn’t always happen when you’re behind the bar.”
Within six months, Rogers’ skills blew up from amateur to ace, prompting him to continue developing his inflated image elsewhere.
“I was ready for a change, and it just so happened that a good friend was getting married in Tahoe, so I said find me a house to live in,” Rogers said. “I packed up all my stuff, came out for the wedding, and never left.”
That was six years ago and six months into his newfound, twisted career.
STRETCHING THE LIMITS
It’s no surprise the whimsical artist favors creating large-scale balloon motorcycles having developed a passion for stunt bikes while living back east; however, Rogers is well aware that an inflated bike can pop just as quickly, albeit far less dangerous, as the real deal.
“I was riding wheelies with two other guys, and we were side-by-side going about 80 miles per hour on [Interstate] 395 outside of D.C. when a tractor trailer passed by,” Rogers explained. “The wind hit me hard, so I dropped my wheel and locked my breaks.”
One rider lost control and missed Rogers by a hair before slamming into the other biker, who did not fare so well.
“The kid basically flew past me and knocked my best friend off his bike and into the guard rail,” Rogers said with a distant look in his eye that suggests time has not blocked the details of that day. “The guard rail sliced his leg right off, and it cut him from his belly button to his spine.”
Luckily for Rogers’ friend, a military medic happened to be driving by at that exact moment, and stopped to assess the scene.
“Had he not have stopped, I don’t know if he would have made it,” Rogers said.
His friend recovered with a prosthetic leg, and has since gone on to downhill ski, skydive and even hop back on a hog alongside Rogers, who said the accident was one of the many moments he’s felt the presence of his late mother.
“My mom used to tell me you can do anything you put your mind to and I’ve proven that to myself time and time again whether it’s been stunt riding motorcycles, owning a landscaping company, juggling and flare bartending in Orlando, moving out here, and getting into balloon art,” he said. “There are so many cool things you can put your mind to and accomplish if you want it bad enough, and my mom made sure I knew that.”
BLOWING UP THE BIG LEAGUES
Like any niche market, balloon artist’s flock together in online forums and at national conventions, where they inspire each other’s creativity, challenge each other in competition, and most of all, talk balloon shop.
Although Rogers hasn’t been in the game as long as his twisted cohorts, he’s already made a name for himself with his ephemeral designs.
“That’s why building balloons is so cool because every single one is different so there’s always something to learn,” Rogers said. “Meeting the best in the world and getting a push from them is what keeps me inspired and what makes me push myself to go bigger.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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