Photography by Alex C. White
If you’re out on Fremont Street on a busy night, you’re likely to spot his hat first. It’s unmistakable: a tower of multicolored balloons twisted into a top hat that could put President Lincoln to shame. You’ve probably referred to him as “Balloon Guy,” the mysterious balloon artist who’s been twisting in bars along the Fremont Street Experience and Fremont East for about a year and a half.
Ryan Schmitt, 29, moved to Las Vegas “to continue the adventure,” and has been a balloon artist and magician his entire life. Starting when he was 5, he cleared local libraries in Akron, Ohio out of magic books on the search for more illusionist knowledge. Not long after his first paid gig (when he was only 8 years old), he got started with balloon art.
After years of bouncing around Florida by way of Ohio, Schmitt was drawn to Las Vegas after attending balloon conventions seven years ago. (Yes, balloon conventions are a thing, and they’re pretty huge.) Most recently, there was the Bling Bling Jam, held at Golden Nugget in July. Schmitt made a life-sized Chippendale performer (pictured right) from only balloons and placed second in the competition.
Now Schmitt can be spotted along Fremont Street. He’s often under the Fremont Experience canopy on the lottery schedule—the randomized schedule set for performers at the Experience—and rotates between Atomic Liquors, Turmeric, Oddfellows and Bunkhouse Saloon. He’s also got his eye on Gold Spike.
“Atomic is my favorite spot,” he says. “It was the first bar I was able to work at and it’s been the best ever since.”
For now, he isn’t doing too much magic on the streets, instead honing in on balloon art. At bars, he takes any request and especially loves challenges. As you can see, I pressed him for a penguin. He’s not limited by any means, having experience making balloon arch ways, decorations, costumes and dresses. At a project in Disneyland for a corporate award ceremony, he and a team of four other balloon artists decked the halls in all things balloon for 30 hours straight—10,000 balloons, to be exact.
“If you’re not in the balloon world, most people never see the really extravagant stuff that pushes our limits,” he says.
As an independent balloon artist and magician, he’s also for-hire for events and birthdays and is always up to the challenge.
“I’m a pretty good magician, but I’m a pretty great balloon artist,” he says. “At my level, there’s not too much competition.”