In a year past, Artist Robert Beck went to W. 81st St. to take a look at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon raising, and it turned into a studio painting.
By Robert Beck
Staging the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a big job. There are bands, balloons, floats and dancing teams, all to maneuver into position and get moving at just the right time. The balloons are delivered and unrolled down 77th and 81st Streets well beforehand, in the order of appearance. When the parade begins, they are alternately called out onto Central Park West to join the procession for the trek down to 34th Street.
The inflation is a major event that attracts a large audience of its own. The balloons are secured by ropes and nets to keep them grounded as they fill. As evening slides into night, the shapes rise from the street, growing in volume, slow and ponderous within their restraints.
It is an extraordinary sight. Eighty-First is lined with residential buildings on one side and the park at the American Museum of Natural History on the other. There is an uneasy coexistence. The buildings are an invasive species, and any indigenous terrain exists at the pleasure of the concrete, like pet trees. Peering down the street gives the vague perception of having a hiking boot on one foot and a high heel on the other. In between, enormous volumes are lifting from the ground, taking possession of the center space, transient and mirthful, neither branch nor brick.
Darkness brings a bath of urban orange from the streetlights. Light arrays fed by generators illuminate the sides of the expanding balloons. The growing forms are attended by workers adjusting ropes and equipment. Immense crowds are held back by temporary railings, mesmerized by the colossal shapes and brilliant colors while police helicopters pass overhead with sweeping searchlights. Shades of a sci-fi movie: Totems from Planet 3.