Ready for takeoff: Balloon race unveils T-shirt, poster design for 2017

Published 11:47 pm Saturday, September 9, 2017

NATCHEZ — From the moment he spotted the hot-air balloons sweep across the Natchez skyline 30 years ago, Ben Hillyer was hooked.

More than three decades later, Hillyer’s fascination the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race and downtown Natchez is captured in the artwork chosen for this year’s race T-shirts and posters.

Balloon race officials recently unveiled the design featuring balloons drifting into the sunset high above downtown Natchez.

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“The design takes inspiration from what I think is Natchez’s greatest treasure — its downtown,” Hillyer said.

The artwork, Hillyer said, is also inspired by the paintings of local artist Carolyn Gwin, who has created a series of paintings of downtown buildings — one of which hangs in his son’s bedroom.

“Her layering of buildings inspired the layered effect of this design,” Hillyer said.

The news editor of The Natchez Democrat, Hillyer said he was captivated by the downtown when he first visited in 1989 with a couple of classmates.

“That Friday night, we walked around downtown and saw balloons glowing in parking lots and on street corners,” he said. “It was magical.”

Thirty years later, the events continue to captivate, he said.

Director of the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race Trevor Brown said one of the goals of the balloon race has always been to focus on downtown Natchez. Brown is also the deputy director of the Historic Natchez Foundation, which has organized and sponsored the event since the first race in 1986.

Sitting around a table, three local men — Cappy Stahlman, James Biglane and Ron Riches — took inspiration from the annual balloon fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M.

“They saw the impact Albuquerque had and said, ‘We need to do that for Natchez.’” Brown said.

Thirty-two years later, the event continues to draw crowds to downtown and the festival grounds at the Rosalie Bicentennial Garden, owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

“The design pays tribute to the original goal of the balloon race,” Hillyer said. “Natchez has so many beautiful buildings and attractions, I wanted to create something that didn’t just focus on one building or just the landmarks but showed how beautiful all of the buildings are downtown.”

Historic Natchez Foundation Executive Director Mimi Miller said T-shirts would be available for purchase on Sept. 20 at the foundation offices on Commerce Street, the Natchez Visitor Reception Center and at the festival site during the balloon race Oct. 20-22.

Short-sleeve T-shirts are $15 for youth sizes, $20 for adult sizes and $22 for adult 2X and 3X.

Long-sleeve T-shirts are $20 for youth sizes, $27 for adult sizes and $30 for adult 2X and 3X.

Sweatshirts are $20 for youth, $30 for adult and $35 for adult 2X, 3X and 4X.

Posters are $30 for large sizes and $20 for small sizes.

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