Remembering the work of Berlin, NH balloon artist Richard Fecteau.

NH Lifestyle Articles: NH Balloon Artist Richard Fecteau

NH Balloon Artist Richard Fecteau

Dreamscapes from Thin Air

by Dan Crawford

When you think of balloons, what comes to mind? Is it Winnie the Pooh and his red one? Is it a children's birthday party? Maybe you think of songs like My Beautiful Balloon by the Fifth Dimension from 1967?

The Led Zeppelin song, Stairway to Heaven might not be in your thoughts at all. However, artist Richard Fecteau constructed an environment that represented not only the verbal cues of the song, but the emotional experience of it for a Berlin High School prom with that theme in the 1990s. Remember the lyrics?

There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
Fecteau's conception of those words included an atmosphere of silver and blue clouds, and a yellow flight of steps, transforming an ordinary auditorium into a dreamscape, at least for one exceptional evening in 1993. "It was a large job, because the gym was so big!" remembers Fecteau. "There were hidden wires, and the placement of balloons had to be very precise. In the end though, that's not what I remember. I think about the students walking in and seeing it for the first time. They couldn't believe it: they couldn't believe it was the same place. They walked in, and you could hear the Ahhhhhs."

Fecteau and his family spent many late nights constructing framework, bending wire and inflating balloons in the labor intensive process of preparing for an event. His wife Lorette, owner of Lorette's Craft Shop on Goebel Street (until she retired), and his three children would work, sometimes overnight, on a project. That could be a challenge, because Fecteau also worked full-time as a self-employed carpenter in Berlin. Much of the work was done in the workshop above the family garage. Air was supplied by an air compressor, and some balloons were filled with Helium gas. Fecteau's genius included the placement of rewards like dollar bills or confetti inside the balloons. At the end of the evening, guests would scramble forward to pop the balloons, and enjoy the contents, or throw the confetti in celebration.

In the business of creating dreams with air, the weather can be a major factor. "Heat is bad, cold is bad," says Fecteau. "Cold is better, but then again, balloons made of Mylar can't take the cold. Every job is different." He recounts the assembly of a 20 foot chicken wire skeleton for a huge Christmas tree. "You have a day to build it, and then you have to fill the balloons and get it to the location: it's all go, go, go!"

Fecteau's artistic career began as his wife did as the owner of Lorette's Craft Shop. They attended instructional seminars and workshops in New England, and across the country to improve the skills and knowledge in the arts. Jobs came initially in the form of weddings and receptions, and soon requests arrived for Christmas events. His reputation for creativity and attention to detail spread.

When asked about political events, Fecteau bristles a bit. "No, I didn't really like politics that much. The closest thing to that was the welcome home for Durant." When he says the name, he means Michael Durant, the American aviator held captive for eleven days in Somalia 1993. Durant received Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star with Valor Device, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, three Air Medals, and a POW Medal. Durant's experience was dramatized in the 2001 film, Black Hawk Down. Fecteau decorated the town Gazebo for a ceremony held in Berlin.

"My wife and family worked together on projects for more than ten years." Fecteau retired from his large scale artistry in 2003, due to the strenuous nature of the work, and his eagerness to be a full-time retiree.

When asked if he misses it, Fecteau pauses and smiles. "Well, some people still call me Mr. B.--- the "B" is for balloon," says Fecteau.


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