We all know that some artists can sometimes be full of hot air, but we rarely say it as a compliment. But at this year’s Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a mega-Van Gogh balloon awed and delighted the crowd.
The festival, which runs for 9 days in October, began in 1972. Over the decades it has become one of New Mexico’s signature events, beloved by a coterie of hot air balloon enthusiasts, locals and visitors alike. Each year features hundreds of hot air aviators showing off their crafts in marquee colors, some of which feature standout custom shapes or characters.
Signature aspects of the festival have evolved over the years, including Dawn Patrol, a nighttime launch to establish safe conditions for festival activities and indicate ballooning conditions in the pre-sunrise hours. Mass Ascensions, which, despite sounding like a cult going bad, is actually when all participants simultaneously launch in two waves, filling the sky with hundreds of balloons at once. The Fiesta Challenge is where participants attempt to drop a marker closest to a target from the air; and a crowd favorite is the Special Shapes Rodeo, of which our buddy Vincent was a head-turner this year.
Obviously, the dynamics of hot air balloon shapes must temper whimsy with engineering acumen, lest the brave pilots of the vessels find themselves in peril. Van Gogh was piloted by Herman Kleinsmit of the Netherlands, who can congratulate himself on an artful turn at this year’s Fiesta. Hopefully historians will forgive the apparent presence of both the balloon’s ears.