Meet Reed, the balloon guy
Sherman “Reed” Lindholm begins to make a cat balloon for 5-year-old Brinlee Sundquist. (Tori La Rue/City Journals)
Gallery: Meet Reed, the balloon guy [4 Images] Click any image to expand.
Enjoy them while they last because Sherman “Reed” Lindholm’s art creations will eventually deflate or pop.
The Utah native’s original art form was cartooning after the style of Al Capp, the drawer behind Li’l Abner, but the now-80-year-old began experimenting with his chosen medium in the late ‘40s: balloons. At the time, long, skinny balloons were not yet mainstream, and the only kinds of balloons Lindholm had to work with were over-sized balloons, 11-inch helium balloons and small balloons the size of typical water balloons today, which limited what an artist could create.
Even when “animal balloons” made an appearance in the marketplace, they were expensive and were used almost exclusively by clowns and magicians who obtained the balloons from their affiliate organizations, so it wasn’t until 30 or 40 years ago that Lindholm purchased his first pack of animal balloons from a store in Arizona, where he was traveling with his children.
“I said, ‘Let’s see if your dad can still make balloons like he used to when he was a kid,” Lindholm said, and to his surprise, he was better at making balloon creatures than he remembered.
Since that time, he’s internalized more than 1,000 animal balloon designs, 70 percent of which are original, he said. From dragons, bunnies, tigers, octopuses and elk to dinosaurs, elephants, rhinoceroses, ants and pigs, Lindholm’s designs are inspired by the children who he makes them for.
“I take requests, and kids always try to stump me, and that’s how I come up with new things. I haven’t been stumped yet,” he said as he chuckled. “A kid asked me for a duck-billed platypus the other day, so I made a duck-billed platypus.”
The white-haired man can be seen sporting a balloon animal apron on most Friday nights, walking from table to table at the Taylorsville Applebee’s and giving out balloons to children in exchange for smiles and/or tips.
“We’ve been here a couple times when he’s been here, and it just makes the kids happy, which makes us happy,” said Keelie Sundquist, a mother of two, speaking in behalf of herself and her husband. “Reed’s just so polite and fun.”
Hannah Gardner, a hostess at the Applebee’s location, said there are a couple families who come to the restaurant looking for Lindholm.
“One family was so disappointed that he wasn’t here one night that they left,” she said.
But the Taylorsville Applebee’s isn’t the only place you’ll find Lindholm. He’s usually at Texas Roadhouse in Taylorsville on Tuesdays and Thursdays and one of the State Street IHOP locations on Saturday mornings.
These are Lindholm’s go-to restaurant places in the Salt Lake Valley, but the jolly guy has a network of eateries from Tooele to St. George. He also has designated restaurants in other states, including Wyoming, Montana and Arizona, where he’ll stop by to make balloons when he’s visiting relatives.
Lindholm’s main hub for balloon-making is in Casper, Wyoming, where he said more than a dozen restaurants welcome him into their midst. It was in Wyoming that Lindholm retired from his job as a professional in the Boy Scouts of America program, a place that he worked since 1967.
“That’s when I started my balloon career going around to different restaurants,” Lindholm said. “It is something I can do to get out of the house instead of sitting there watching television, waiting away.”
In Casper, Lindholm also offered to entertain with balloon animal creation at private events, creating a business entity known as “Safari Balloons.” People hired Lindholm for birthday and work parties, and he’d host booths at carnivals. He loved the community and said Casper is still home, mentioning that he’s still “in the process of moving to Utah.”
Although Lindholm’s taken a step back from private events since he moved to Taylorsville, he still carries balloons around in his pocket, so he is ready to create an animal anywhere he goes.
“Sometimes when I’ll be out at Walmart, I’ll see a kid crying, and I’ll make a balloon and give it to him,” Lindholm said. “If you carry a balloon in your pocket, you don’t have to worry about paper, pencil or crayon or anything to draw pictures. You can pull a balloon out of your pocket and make something for the kid.”
One of Lindholm’s favorite memories of giving away balloons spontaneously occurred while he was visiting Paris. He didn’t speak the language, but he sat on a park bench, giving away balloon animals to children while telling their parents possibly the only French word he knew, “gratuit,” meaning “no charge.”
Macular degeneration is taking away Lindholm’s eyesight, he said, and he thinks he will eventually become blind. Until then, the balloon animal-maker extraordinaire said he’ll continue to create balloon designs for children anywhere and everywhere.
“It’s just fun to make people happy and smile,” he said. “The world’s a bad enough place to live in as it is. There’s got to be something right, and that’s what I’m trying to give.”