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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Amira Leaf, left, and Allison Sorensen watch as Jeremy Telford creates balloon sculptures during a March birthday party in Eagle Mountain.

PROVO — Several balloon twisters from Utah County will be on hand to create myriad inflated creatures during Heber City's "Day Out With Thomas" festival.

But those balloons created at the annual Memorial Day weekend festival around Thomas the Tank Engine are minuscule compared to the mammoth project the twisters are planning for the Thanksgiving Point Dinosaur Museum birthday celebration in July. That sculpture, a life-size creation of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, will hang from wires suspended from the museum's balcony. Work on it begins in late June.

The balloon guy behind the sculptures is Jeremy Telford, founder of Balloon Guy Entertainment and a Brigham Young University student. For the past five years the recreation management major has been learning how to manage fun.

After Telford's then-future brother-in-law, Timothy "Paco" Hadley taught him the skill of balloon twisting, Telford and his wife, Kristin, would do shows and festivals together, usually sticking with 10 basic designs. Now with two toddlers underfoot, Telford is a solo act, except when he brings in other twisters to do the big jobs, like the Heber City event.

The couple met at the BYU Juggler's Club.

Telford has passed his skill on to others who will join with him to create the Thanksgiving Point T-Rex.

"It will take from 1,500 to 2,000 balloons," he said.

But his steadiest gig is balloon twisting for guests at the Brick Oven, where he twists for tips. He also creates 4-foot to 7-foot sculptures for parties, including his favorite, a creation that looks surprisingly like a character in the Super Mario Bros. video game.

Another favorite is a life-size sculpture of Elvis Presley, which he created for a rock 'n' roll convention in January at the South Towne Expo Center. Other large sculptures include a princess, a 9-foot-long stegosaurus dinosaur, a transformer and a monkey. Large sculptures command a fee of more than $100.

"They're worth more than I charge right now," Telford said.

While birthday and office parties are among Telford's more common gigs, he also does weddings.

"They put me in a corner to keep the kids entertained," he said.

Creating a balloon sculpture for Telford is "easy and fast, about 30 seconds for him. It takes me a little longer, maybe a minute," Kristin Telford said.

One of Telford's proteges, Brenden Rowlands, is a BYU graduate student but takes a party twisting gig about once a month.

With an improv acting background, he likes to sing as he twists — the younger the group the more he sings, he said, usually tunes from Walt Disney films.

"I think of a song that goes with (the creation)," he said. "I'm usually not a great singer, but the kids don't mind."

Heather Jensen started balloon twisting in junior high in her hometown of West Valley after taking a summer community course at Kearns High School with her sister.

"I didn't do anything with it, except for family and friends," she said.

Now a senior at BYU, she met Telford at the BYU Juggler's Club. But it wasn't until a chance meeting with him on TRAX that he learned she could do twisting. He was looking for someone to assist him at the Heber City train festival. He taught her the 10 basic balloon animals and she was in.

Now she takes a Brick Oven gig when she can and performs at local parties.

"I've discovered that if I dress like I don't belong I get better tips," she said. So she wears a green felt hat with a yellow flower and a bright shirt.

But the biggest hurdle was toning up the muscles in her hands and arms.

"I need to do hand stretches and massages," she said.

At first she had to ice her swollen fingers after a long gig. Her hands would dry out and crack and she occasionally got hives from the latex.

"Eventually, I got past that," she said. "Now I can do 4-hour shifts."

The group gets together and practices in balloon jams, teaching each other new tricks they invent.

Along the way they've found that being a student and a twister takes a good dose of time-juggling.

"That's how he's been, juggling school and work and family," Kristin Telford said of her husband.


E-mail: rodger@desnews.com