Kevin Lindh shares joy through balloon art in Minnesota

Mar. 12—HOUSTON, Minn. — Kevin Lindh works in the business of awe and smiles.

As the owner of Balloons by Kevin, he creates unique balloon characters and decor pieces in cities throughout Minnesota. On the list of 80 balloon design options for entertainment events, baby Jesus graces the top spot with animals, hats and assorted creations also fulfilling the dreams of kids of all ages. His artistry extends to creations of Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, balloon dresses, nativity scenes and depictions of emotions.

But it all started with a goal: learn balloon art.

He started practicing his skills in summer 2012 and, while teaching, added clients and asked people on Facebook for requests.

There are a couple of times God changed the course of his life, Lindh said, such as working with kids at church. He then became a teacher, including kindergarten at Mabel-Canton Public School, and now works with thousands of kids each year. He says too that he "lucked into" making balloon creations full-time.

"They're just optimistic all the time, they're easy to work with, they're unpredictable so that makes them funny without even trying to be," Lindh described of how kids make him smile.

While waiting in line at a community appreciation event in Austin, kids gleamed as the colorful balloons became fascinating toys: unicorns, monkeys, pandas and frogs. Their balloons also became bracelets, which Lindh added on the bottom of balloons to make them easy for kids to carry. A special detail of glasses on the animals draws out the kids' value too.

In the slew of excited requests, Lindh pauses to ask the kids' names and invites them into the balloon creation process. They pick the monkey's color as brown or gold and hold balloon pieces.

"Kids remember the balloons but they also remember how you treat them and how you made them feel, and the funny things you do," Lindh said.

He's building connections and encouraging community in those few minutes too. He mostly works in Winona, Rochester and La Crosse while also traveling to cities throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Lindh said he enjoys the family interactions, such as a parent or grandparent beaming with pride over their kids' animal choice or saying thank you.

"When I'm talking to families it's easy ways to get them to appreciate one another," Lindh said. "I just do fun stuff too where there's four kids and I'm talking to the second one and I'm like, 'So, are your dad's favorite?' Just bringing everyone into the picture, bringing in some tension too but it's interesting what they say."

When TV show or video game characters blow up online, he avoids drawing kids' attention to their screens. He focuses on "natural things" with some exceptions for special requests such as Super Bowl quarterbacks or mascots for universities. While he can't explain the axolotl trend, the salamander is an oft-requested balloon in the last two years.

"I don't do any things from TV essentially so I try to stick to the natural things and hopefully steer kids away from wanting TV and movie game stuff all the time," Lindh said. "Hopefully that impacts them a little bit and they spend more time reading and outside than on TV."

For his new balloon creations, Lindh said, "I want to see improvement." Like with balloon dresses, the costumes only became more elaborate as details turn the creations into days of work instead of hours. He's working to add 20 new balloon designs, including a fox and teddy bear.

After growing his business to full-time six years ago, he hopes to share some of his lessons through a book he's writing called "Balloons For Tiny Humans." His business has ballooned with decor work, such as arches, wall displays and columns for events. He said decor work is about 25% of the business and 75% is entertainment work.

At a Midwest Amateur Gymnastics Association event in Rochester, the balloon columns and arches added a pop of color to the room. In this case, the colors resembled the firecracker popsicles or a barbershop pole with spirals of red, white, blue and turquoise. The traditional columns follow a pattern as the balloons are twisted around one another. The more creative arches can look "weird because it's supposed to," he said while inflating balloons of different sizes.

Through each balloon creation, Lindh hopes to share "from a generous heart and (a) desire to positively impact people."

"Being a balloon artist might seem like a simple straight forward business and in the business structure itself it is," Lindh wrote in his book. "The great benefit though is you have a tremendous viewpoint on the economy and learning about businesses as a whole. One day I'll work with a non profit, the next I'm doing a grand opening for a new business, doing an event that been running for 100 years, doing a church event, doing a business partnership event, doing private events, and doing fundraising events."