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    A burly, 6-foot-5 man in a worn gray sweatshirt plops a black garbage bag onto a table at Heine Brothers’. From the bag, he pulls out a bulbous figure and sets it upright. Balloon Elmo, with Sharpie eyes and smile. 

    Gilbert Addams has been a balloon artist for 14 years. “My wife and I couldn’t have kids, and I started this because I wanted kids in my life,” the 49-year-old says. He describes his own father as a “child magnet,” a man who, at various times in St. Louis, owned an ice cream truck, roller rink and candy store and even bought a school building (and accompanying playground) destined for demolition. Addams originally wanted to be a roller-skating clown, but his height and bellowing voice frightened kids. “I’d skate up and there’d be a puddle where the kid was standing,” he says. Instead, Addams joined the Fellowship of Christian Magicians.

    He does birthday parties, youth-group events and a weekly show for the “disabilities ministry” at Southeast Christian Church, where he works as a groundskeeper. He also performs every Tuesday night at the Goose Creek Diner. Addams twists balloons into rabbits, mice, fishing poles with fish attached, aliens, swords, serpents, Jesus. He uses “high-quality” balloons (“You don’t want a kid’s balloon popping in their face”) that he buys from “a very specific vendor in Texas. That’s kind of a secret, though.” Any tips for amateurs? For a balloon dog, inflate until two inches on the end remain. “You have to leave the puppy a nose,” he says.

    “I have really strong lungs — all balloon artists do,” Addams adds. “One time I had a friend who went for surgery and didn’t need to be on a ventilator because his lungs were so strong from blowing up balloons.” 

    Photo by Aaron Kingsbury.

    This article is from the May 2015 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. 

    Ashlie Stevens's picture

    About Ashlie Stevens

    I'm a writer, dancer, daughter, sister,foodie, health nut, and a proud Louisvillian. I am currently a student at Bellarmine University, and am hoping to graduate with a major in Communications and a minor in Health Sciences

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