SALT LAKE CITY — A crowd of balloon artists cheered, whistled, whooped and hollered Monday as Marvin Hardy, author of "Balloon Magic" instructional books and world-renowned balloon artist, greeted them at Salt Lake's first Balloon Jam, a three-day convention where balloon artists take classes, exchange designs and twist balloons.
"We're here and we love it and I still do what I do from a wheelchair," Hardy, 85, told the crowd Monday.
Balloon conventions take place around the country and the world but this is the first to be held in Utah, according to Shan Ingleby, balloon artist and organizer of the event.
The idea for Balloon Jam came just three months ago in February after Ingleby put on a Valentine's Day balloon event celebrating Hardy and his wife, Penny, at the senior living facility where the couple live.
People on social media saw the event and reached out to Ingleby, saying they would love to celebrate the Hardys and would fly out if another event was held.
Typically, it takes one year or more to plan a Balloon Jam, Ingleby said, but this jam was unique.
Marvin Hardy suffers from health issues related to Agent Orange exposure from his time in the Vietnam War and predicted he didn't have much time left to live — certainly not an entire year, he said.
Penny Hardy also said she didn't have long to live because she has stage 4 cancer.
Because of these health complications, organizers only had a few months to plan the large event — Ingleby said more than 100 people registered for the first day of festivities and he estimated they would go through close to 70,000 bio-degradable balloons by the end of the three days.
They decided to plan the event to coincide with Penny Hardy's birthday — she turned 70 Monday on the first day of the convention, where she announced her stage 4 cancer had gone into remission earlier this month.
The couple, well-known in the balloon art world as pioneers of the medium, met in the 1980s when Penny Hardy typeset Marvin Hardy's famous "Balloon Magic" books, where he introduced how to create motorcycles, airplanes and helicopters out of balloons — "fancy figures" he developed that had never been done before.
Marvin Hardy later became an ambassador with Pioneer Balloon Company which sent the couple around the world to more than 50 countries to teach their unique twisted-balloon objects.
It was those books that inspired many balloon twisters who attended the event.
S. Frank Stringham is one such twister who celebrated his 36th anniversary of balloon twisting Easter Sunday of this year.
Stringham's mother bought Hardy's balloon twisting instructional kit and put them in each of her seven children's Easter baskets in 1983. Stringham, the oldest of the crew, blew through his balloons and took his siblings as well.1 comment on this story
His mother then called the Hardys up, using a phone number on the kit, and inquired where to get more balloons — and thus began the close friendship between Marvin Hardy and Stringham.
Stringham, through tears, called Marvin Hardy "my second dad."
This love for Marvin Hardy was shared by most balloon enthusiasts at the convention.
Willy Monroe, balloon performer, traveled from Madrid, Spain to attend the event for Marvin Hardy.
"We are a family," he said of the balloon world. He said he was honored to attend the event and said he was inspired by Marvin Hardy and his work.