People, Places & Spaces

Tastemaker: The Aerial Sculptures of Janice Lee Kelly

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Janice Lee Kelly is a graduate from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, whose wit and sharp eye for identifying  design trends has intrigued her friends and public alike for years. In 2011 this AIA architect founded FLOAT INSTALLATIONS,  turning her estimable talents to showcasing the potential in a simple product that all of us have taken for granted since childhood — balloons. It’s only what we’d expect Janice to do — bend the rules.

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And in Janice’s talented hands balloons soar to new heights (excuse the pun) taking on a sophistication that no one heretofore would ever have imagined. “Incredulous” is not an unusual reaction from a first time viewer of her creations. Nor is it unusual that she chose to pursue the possibilities of balloons as “aerial sculptures.” You’re not alone if the name Dale Chihuly (master glass blower/artist/sculptor) comes immediately to mind (it’s only a coincidence that he was also a graduate of, and teaching at Rhode Island School of Design when she was a student.) Both share a level of innovation and success in challenging our perceptions.

 Aerial Sculptures

In Janice’s words:

“In 2009, I moved to a Salt Marsh on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island and was staggered by its beauty. Inspired to photograph life on such a transfixing landscape, I began taking my sculptures to the marsh – seeing them as totems immersed in the landscape, responsive to the tides and the light, alongside every other living thing. The warm, low light before sunset is the most glorious time to be out on the marsh, shooting a sculpture — the light bobs and weaves, the shorebirds diligently rustle up bedtime snacks — everything is more beautiful.”

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“The winds really kicked up as I was shooting this piece and I watched through my camera lens as it broke loose from its moorings and began careening across the marsh.  I slung my camera over my back, hoisted up my waders and barely grabbed it before it wrapped itself around the pole supporting the osprey nest – which most certainly would have meant a run in with the Environmental Police – or an irate Osprey.”

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“I see the balloons as an art medium and as a sculptural material, independent and worlds away from the conventional connotations of the “Balloon Decor” aesthetic. Yet they retain the uplifting quality that one associates with balloons — and evoke the longing of — imminent release. I’ve also developed methods of handling and constructing the balloons so that they do not require helium and can therefore last for weeks or even many months.”

“I find compelling the urgency inherent in the transience of each day’s weather, of being in the moment with what Nature brings. Designing my own subjects and “catching” their ethereal life in photographs brings me an essential, satisfying gestalt that I never knew I was missing.”

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” I have always been drawn to elegance and grace…mostly testing the balance between tradition and innovation, civility and irreverence, the classics and creativity.”

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Event Environments and Private Occasions

After working for many months developing the sculptures she realized these forms were very scalable and had great potential to transform event environments – those barren banquet halls or vast white tents can now be filled with vitality in a way, and at a scale, flowers or pipe-and-drape curtains are unable to accomplish.

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And so, in 2011, to support her art and create more opportunity for innovation, she began creating thematic, custom aerial sculptures for public and private events.

Janice Lee Kelly

Even the most minimalist design has a friendliness to it; surprise carries the day. And they take lighting and projection beautifully.

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You’ll be happy to see a favorite object transformed to another-wordly experience – as for example, a 14’ (foot!) diameter “ring of fire” wreath at Lincoln Center. In addition to this high profile New York location, she has been transforming venues across the country to include the Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA),  Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI), the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway (Boston, MA) and the Newport International Film Festival among others.

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From the formality of Rosecliff to the organic beauty of a winter landscape.

Janice has plans to further collaborate with dancers, choreographers and set designers to develop additional, noteworthy performance pieces. Always bending the rules!

And so I looked forward to her responses to some favorite questions for our Tastemakers series, shared in a conversation that she and I had when she brought the hearts over to my garden to photograph in the snow.

Thank you, my dear!

An Interview with Janice Lee Kelly

Janice Lee Kelly

  1.  When traveling, I’ve been most inspired by:
    The unique flavor and taste of each cultures design vernacular – seeing how the same problems ( housing, retail, farming, worship, etc ) get solved in so many different, beautiful and innovative ways. And new landscapes in which I long to fly my sculptures.

  2. One of my current obsessions:
    CLOUDS  – watching them in the sky, photographing them, drawing them, but mostly making cloud sculptures in my studio. I can’t stop looking up…this crazy, never ending drama, full of surprises,  plays out overhead night and day.

  3. My greatest indulgence:
    When I see that the light is lovely and the wind is still – dropping everything, donning my Wellingtons and making a sculpture to take out on the marsh.

  4.  What does Newport mean to you?:
    It is like an anthropological excavation site – cut a section through any neighborhood and there are the tracts of Vikings and Indians, the stone walls of Pilgrims, Headquarters of American Revolutionaries,  salons of bohemian Intellectuals and Chateaus of the Gilded Age. On my first visit to Newport, I was enamored by the sound of fog horns and church bells – the combo of a charming urban core with such easy access to spectacular natural beauty.

  5.  The best design advice I ever received came from:
    John Keats ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

  6. The top city for design is:
    Providence, Rhode Island.

  7. The movies with the most beautiful rooms are:
    I always watch Woody Allen movies twice – the first time for plot, the second time to ogle the interiors.

  8. The most versatile color is:
    Robins Egg Blue – fabulous on a porch ceiling, a Tiffany box,  a puddle at twilight. Pair it with ANY other color and you’re off to the races!

  9. My secret design trick is:
    Simplify and repeat,  simplify and repeat,  simplify and repeat.

To view a portfolio of Janice’s work visit

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

One thought on “Tastemaker: The Aerial Sculptures of Janice Lee Kelly

  1. Oh Janice …truly elevating in so many ways! Color, light, shape, movement, space, being = pure alchemy – from latex to living organism, teaming with life. Any party with your creations is other-worldly. Float on.

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