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2013 artwork features view of Clifton Avenue

Artwork for this year's Great Mississippi River Balloon Race was designed by Ben Hillyer.
Artwork for this year’s Great Mississippi River Balloon Race was designed by Ben Hillyer.

For some Natchezians, a piece of the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race story hangs on their walls or sits folded in a drawer.

This year, Ben Hillyer will add another piece of the story with his original design for the 2013 balloon race’s poster and T-shirt.

“When I first came to Natchez, one of the first things I noticed was that everybody had a balloon race T-shirt,” he said. “I guess to some extent, there was a part of me that said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to design one of those shirts that everyone wears around town?’”

That was 13 years ago when Hillyer, the creative director for The Natchez Democrat, moved to Natchez in 2000 after marrying his wife and Natchez native, Amelia Salmon, a local architect.

Artwork by Ben Hillyer
Artwork by Ben Hillyer

Hillyer attended Mississippi State’s College of Architecture Art and Design, where he graduated with a bachelor’s in architecture and a minor in photography.

As creative director at The Democrat, Hillyer leads the photo department and design for the newspaper and Natchez the Magazine, among other duties.

Hillyer says his newspaper work and even designing the balloon race poster are similar to his previous work as an architect.

“For me, there’s no disconnect between designing a poster, a building or taking photographs for the paper,” he said. “Architectural design encompasses everything from the big picture to the smallest things, such as silverware or furniture. Posters are no different. People live with them as much as they live in buildings.”

The design for Hillyer’s balloon race poster is a tale of two photographs.

Hillyer submitted a graphic design for the race last year — one that included everything from a silhouette of his son Gibson blowing bubbles to balloons floating over the river bluff. This year he decided to use a more photographic inspiration.

The poster is a compilation of two  photographs, one of balloons lifting off  and another of the view of Clifton Avenue from near Magnolia Vale on Learned’s Mill Road.

“Clifton Avenue has never been featured in a balloon race design,” he said. “I think Clifton Avenue is one of the best places in Natchez not only to view the balloon race, but also just one of the prettiest views of the bluff.”

Using the Clifton Avenue photograph was actually his wife’s idea, Hillyer said.

“This year when I was trying to come up with a design, I first went with something more graphic, with a map of the river and silhouettes of balloons … and it got to be really busy,” he said. “So when I showed it to Amelia, she said ‘You should use that photograph you took of Clifton Avenue.’”

Balloon race food and merchandising chairwoman Mimi Miller said she is very pleased with the design the committee chose this year.

And the public had a hand in choosing the design, too, Miller said. The submitted designs were displayed at the Historic Natchez Foundation, and people who visited the office were asked to rank their favorite designs with colored stickers.

“I wanted to balloon race committee to be able to see what the public thought,” Miller said. “I thought it would be helpful in their decision.”

The balloon race poster and T-shirt are longstanding traditions of the race, which began in 1986, Miller said.

“I’m sure there are some people that have collected all of them,” she said.

Balloon race T-shirts and posters will be on sale at the Historic Natchez Foundation, the Natchez Visitor Reception Center and at the race Oct. 18-20. T-shirts will be available in white and yellow in a variety of sizes.

Cowboy Mouth will be headlining the race’s live entertainment, which will also include Anders Osborne, Neal McCoy and Shannon McNally.

Advance balloon race tickets can be purchased at the Historic Natchez Foundation and the visitor’s center.

Tickets will also be available at the gate.

For more information about the balloon race, visit natchezballoonrace.com.