USC student Gabe Turner has appeared at local libraries with creations made of air and rubber and inspired by a childhood interest.
His gifts are balloon sculptures, usually about two to four feet tall, and come in the form of flowers or animals that he sculpts for the purpose of giving away. As a fourth-year music education student, Turner has delivered his art to both Thomas Cooper Library and Richland County Library throughout the year.
The inspiration behind Turner's pieces stems from his childhood love for libraries. As a kid, he would attend many of the local library events during the summer, which held workshops for magic or balloon character making.
"We live in Rutherford County, North Carolina, which has an excellent summer library program for children, and they had — [for] several years they would bring in balloon artists to do a summer reading program. And it was just a lot of fun, it's visually stimulating, and so we got kind of interested in it through the library system here in our county,” Connie Turner, Gabe’s mother, said.
When Gabe started to create more regularly, he and his mother found a company out of North Carolina that made the particular type of balloons needed. The creations are always made using Qualatex balloons, which are more durable and meant for this kind of sculpture.
”A lot of it has to do with the quality of the balloon, to be successful doing it. And so, the right kind of balloon and just little things that, you know, you kind of have to learn about the balloons themselves, make it easier to do the sculptures, otherwise you wind up with a lot of popped balloons and a lot of broken hearts," Connie Turner said.
One of Gabe Turner’s favorite creations is a balloon caterpillar he made, inspired by the children’s book "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." About three feet in length, the balloon animal took him about 15 minutes to make. Another creation, a bundle of balloon flowers in a balloon vase, took him about 30 minutes and is much larger than the caterpillar.
"I like to make things and give them to specific people because I used to like to make stuff and then, you know, I'd put it on the Internet, or whatever, but I've just found it more fulfilling — to somebody I know or somebody I don't know — to just go up to them and just give it to them personally, instead of somebody happening to find it [on the Internet]," Turner said.
Besides balloons, Turner also draws cartoons and plays a lot of music. Piano is his career passion, but he also plays many other instruments and composes his own music. Turner started taking piano lessons from a young age and is now working on his piano performance certificate, which is similar to an academic minor. He is also involved in the C.S. Lewis Student Center on campus and is a central figure in its music scene.
Father Paul Sterne, the chaplain at the C.S. Lewis Student Center, is a close figure in Turner's life and has seen a lot of his work this semester. Turner's balloons have even been used in some of the center's events.
“He made one balloon sculpture of me," Sterne said. "Well, I wish he had put more hair on it."
Turner said he is a strong believer in the value of handiwork and the struggles that social media and technology play in our world today, which is a big reason he creates.
"I would just encourage people to get outside and to enjoy nature and to make things and to create things. Because I see a lot of people on phones, and they aren't happy, and we consume so much. But it's a lot of fun to make stuff and to make stuff together and to share it with people," Turner said.
Turner continues to make balloons and said he plans on giving at least one more to the Thomas Cooper Library before winter break, but Turner always gives with a sentiment of anonymous charity and a return to humanity.
“I don't see very many people just making stuff without trying to get something out of somebody. I guess I'm of the opinion that while we're on Earth, if we have art to make and music to make and things to share, to do it and to do it as much as possible without expecting and wanting something in return,” Turner said.