Sculpting plastic and air

Sunday, October 22, 2006

IRONDEQUOIT, N.Y. -- Instead of clay or wood, sculptor Larry Moss prefers a highly malleable but far less durable material: balloons.

Moss typically creates air-filled models of humans, animals and monsters, but his latest piece of performance art is even spookier: a 10,000-square-foot, 10-room, walk-through haunted house made out of 130,000 latex balloons.

The Balloon Manor and its inhabitants -- quirky, hilarious and somewhat creepy Halloween creatures -- fill a wing of the Medley Centre mall in this Rochester suburb.

Its "boo-loon" show opened Friday and runs through next weekend. That's about as long as the artwork can last -- with periodic infusions of air.

The entrance is a dragon's mouth, complete with a giant uvula that tickles visitors' heads. There's a carousel of galloping insects, dragons and vultures, all ridden by undersized skeletons, and a Model T Ford that looks like it has long ghostly white arms.

In a nearby "beastro," two vampires hang upside down eating off an upturned table, and a ghostly chicken plays the role of "poultry-geist." In the kennel room, cages full of critters are trying to lock horns, claws and fangs through the bars. The crystal ballroom features both flying and disco-dancing skeletons.

The front end of Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis has crashed through one of the walls -- interlocking gray and black balloons that make the brightly colored characters stand out even more.

More than 50 balloon artists from across the country and as far away as Japan and Israel helped build the manor, all employing their own styles.

The tour is expected to draw up to 15,000 people and raise as much as $50,000 for a hospital cancer center and the Teens Living with Cancer support group.

Moss, a 36-year-old New York native, is renowned for his large and technically challenging sculptures.

"When you say balloon art, so many people think of dogs and cats," Moss said. "I want to see more people learn how to do this and to build an appreciation for what we do. I want them to know a balloon is my paint brush. If I can visualize it, I can create it."

Because the air eventually seeps out, balloon art has an ephemeral ingredient.

"When this is all over, what's left is a memory, a picture in everybody's minds. Usually when I talk to people later, they talk so expressively about what they saw -- different things than I did.

"My background is as a stage entertainer. I like entertaining the audience and creating something for them that they can't necessarily hold in their hands and take away."

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