AIR OF IMPORTANCE: Artist Janice Lee Kelly is a sculptor who works in the medium of balloons. “Most people look at balloons and see children’s parties and twisty balloon animals, but I [see] building blocks for larger sculptures,” she said.
When people ask her about her work, Janice Lee Kelly usually tells them, “I’m in the event-transformation business.” That’s because what she designs and produces are floating sculptures – you could call them aerial installations – meant to create an environment.
Her creations range from elegant and classic for a garden wedding to whimsical, vibrant and contemporary, such as 15 sculptures for “The Art of Place Making” conference at the Omni Hotel in Providence in November.
While her medium is balloons, these are top-of-the-line, 100 percent natural, latex balloons made from the sap of rubber trees in African villages, shipped to a factory in Texas that Kelly has visited to see the production process firsthand. The balloons biodegrade at the rate of a leaf, usually even faster than a leaf, which Kelly knows because she has tested the process in her garden.
“Most people look at balloons and see children’s parties and twisty balloon animals, but I look at them and see color pixels and shapes that are building blocks for larger sculptures,” said Kelly.
She often doesn’t even use the word “balloon” when talking with potential clients, because of common assumptions about the more party-related – and less artistically sophisticated and professional – uses of balloons.
“The biggest challenge I had for a long time was just telling people I worked with balloons,” said Kelly, who came from Kentucky to Rhode Island School of Design, where she got a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1975.
After college, she returned to Kentucky, got her architectural license, and worked in architecture for many years, including serving as the architect for Louisville’s Landmarks Commission.
She began to miss the East Coast and easy access to the urban centers of New York and Boston, so she headed back to Rhode Island.