Alumnus, art students create sculptures from 4,500 balloons

Alumnus Jason Hackenwerth and four Webster art students worked together to create the balloon sculpture pictured above. The artwork is on display in the East Academic Building, which officially opened its doors on Wednesday, March 28. PHOTO BY DAVID NASH

Students, faculty and members of the community gazed up at the 4,500 bright pink, orange, blue and green latex balloons twisted together to form two balloon sculptures. They were created by alumnus Jason Hackenwerth and four Webster art students. It took five days to create these sculptures to be on display for the grand opening of the East Academic Building (EAB).

Hackenwerth quietly stood and looked upon the sculptures he created.

Before he began creating balloon sculptures, Hackenwerth said he never imagined he would create art that taught him so much about life. He first started experimenting with latex balloons in 2004.

“I was pretty terrified,” Hackenwerth said. “I wasn’t sure what would happen. If you just trust the process, though, sometimes the best things come out of not knowing.”

But soon, Hackenwerth started receiving requests to create balloon installations for various events, corporations and expeditions.

“I don’t set out to create anything specific,” Hackenwerth said. “I just explore the concept of color and form, and see how it evolves into space.”

Webster University asked him to create an installation for the grand opening of the EAB.

“I feel honored that Webster considers me a part of the family,” Hackenwerth said. “I’m proud that Webster is growing and doing so much in communities all over the world. The fact that I can be a part of that brand is wonderful.”

After graduating from Webster with a bachelor of fine arts in 1993, Hackenwerth didn’t expect he would create art with latex balloons.

“I came here with every intention in the world of becoming an artist and being successful in my career,” Hackenwerth said. “I have never given up on that dream.”

After graduating from Webster, he attended the Savannah College of Art and Design. He graduated in 2011 with his master’s of fine arts.

Now he lives and works in New York City and travels around the world to places such as Hong Kong to create his art.

“It just took off right away,” Hackenwerth said. “I became invited to many different places all over the world to do it.”

He grew up in St. Louis and always knew he wanted to become an artist.

Jason Hackenwerth is Raylene Hackenwerth’s only child. She said she and Jason Hackenwerth used to work together as street performers at Union Station where he would twist balloon animals.  Raylene Hackenwerth said Jason Hackenwerth moved to New York because he wanted to be in a place where his artwork could become known and accepted.

“He’s brave. He just goes,” Raylene Hackenwerth said. “We have always been super close. I grew up with him. We grew up together. We learned together.”

Justin Bailey is one art student who worked with Hackenwerth.

“It was really great to see the working process of an artist who is so far along in their career and successful,” Bailey said. “Just seeing how he worked start to finish was really helpful and influential on my own practice. It’s not an experience that you get in class.”

The other art students who helped Hackenwerth with his installations included Martin Lang, Bailey Davenport and Meredith Cristal.

“Jason was really fun to work with,” Bailey said. “He has got a great sense of humor and you can tell he really enjoys what he does; he’s very easy going.”

Though Jason Hackenwerth and the students worked hard to create the sculptures, they will not last forever.

“It’s an expression. Some like to call it experiential art because it’s temporary and teaches us a lot about life,” Jason Hackenwerth said. “My work has taught me not to take it too seriously and to learn from the experience as a lesson from life, how to let go and appreciate the moment.”

He compared his work to flowers. He said when you bring flowers into your home, they liven up and make your home brighter. But then the flowers start to change.

“This thing will start to wilt and shrivel, and over time I think people in the business school are going to be creeped out more and more as it starts to deflate,” Jason Hackenwerth said. “It will be up to them to decide when to take them (the sculptures) out.”

Jason Hackenwerth said he doesn’t mind his art going away over time.

“Everybody wants to have everything all the time but this has taught me to appreciate the moment,” Jason Hackenwerth said.

Now after finishing his installation at Webster, Jason Hackenwerth is booked until next spring and will make sculptures for various places. He will soon travel to the school he received his masters degree, Savannah College of Art and Design, to make another balloon installation.

“I feel blessed every day and I rarely take one moment for granted,” Jason Hackenwerth said. “Regardless of whatever medium I use to make my dream happen, I will never give up.”



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