Saltwater Portrait

Miguel Almine: Sculpture out of thin air

Balloons transformed into colorful fantasies
March 8, 2011
Miguel Almine, a Shields Elementary School custodian, creates elaborate balloon sculptures. BY LEAH HOENEN

Some sculptors work in granite or marble, others in metals of all kinds.

Miguel Almine works with balloons, creating colorful fantasies out of the air. Almine doesn’t really do balloon dogs.  Try life-sized princesses, Mad Hatter hats, dresses, elaborate floral arrangements.

Almine has worked at Shields Elementary School for the past seven years, during which he’s made quite a name for himself.

“The kids stop me in the hall and say, ‘Hey, Miguel, will you make a balloon for me?’” he says, laughing.  He made a sculpture for the school’s start-of-the-year assembly: two dolphins jumping over waves.

Almine began making balloon art in 2004.  He bought some balloons and a hand-operated air pump.  “I tried to make something for my kids – a teddy bear.  I thought, ‘This looks easy,’” he said.  He had a hard time with that first one, but he kept practicing.

He checked the internet for help, and occasionally he still looks online for inspiration, but these days, he doesn’t really need any.

There is no set theme to his work.  He’s made Winnie the Pooh, the Tasmanian Devil, a Thanksgiving basket of fruit, a Halloween mask reminiscent of Disney’s “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” a stork holding a baby.

Sometimes, he sees designs he likes and updates them to make them more ornate.

“At first, my kids were amazed,” he said.  “Then, they kind of got over it.”

Almine, who keeps photo slideshows of his children on his cell phone, doesn’t seem too bothered by their lack of interest.  He smiles like he always does and gives a little shrug.  It’s OK if they’re over it.

Almine moved to the United States in 1994.  He was born in Manila, in the Philippines, and worked there as a messenger before he emigrated.

His sister and brother are still in the Philippines, and his mother and older brother now live in Australia.  They use Skype to keep in touch, he said.

“I miss my family,” he said.   But, he likes what he’s doing now.

“The kids are fun,” he said.

Staff members at Shields will tell him of employees’ birthdays and he’ll bring something in.

For Principal Jenny Nauman’s birthday, he made a life-sized princess doll.
“That took some time,” he said.

That’s partially because although he has that hand pump, he says it’s easier to inflate the balloons the old-fashioned way.

“It started with family and friends.  They would ask me to do a birthday party, then recommend me to their friends,” Almine said.  He made balloon sculptures as part-time work, but since then he’s scaled it back because he no longer has enough time.

“Something like the dress takes a lot of time.  I can’t do that anymore,” he said.

“I keep pictures of all of them, as a souvenier,” he said.

Almine usually makes something each week just to stay sharp. “I keep doing it to practice, or I’ll lose my skill,” he said.