COLUMBIA — From outside Steve and Susie Hoskinson's tent, the rainbow-colored hot air balloons look like they float.
But as the breeze picks up slightly they begin to sway, twisting and shimmering in the afternoon sunlight, and the illusion is broken. A closer inspection reveals that they are made of glass.
Steve Hoskinson looks on as the wind tosses the suspended "balloons" about his tent. He and his wife, Susie Hoskinson, are set up in Booth 81 in the middle of Stephens Lake Park for the 52nd annual Art in the Park show organized by the Columbia Art League. More than 170 artists competed for 110 spots in this year's festival. Organizers estimate around 20,000 people will pass through the festival over the weekend.
"They're very strong," says Steve Hoskinson, as a customer brushes against a rack of hanging glass pieces. "We make them out of recycled light bulbs, but they're much stronger than a regular bulb. Once we cut off the bottom it gets rid of the vacuum and they become tougher to break."
The Hoskinsons learned the technique from an artist named Michael Wiegand based in Salida, Co. They were on a hiking trip in the mountains when they stopped into Wiegand's shop and saw his work for the first time.
"We had never seen anything like it," says Susie, gesturing at the elaborate designs. "The were just so unique, and the possibilities seemed endless."
When Wiegand decided to retire, the Hoskinsons bought his equipment and took up the trade. Five years and dozens of shows later, they have branched out from Wiegand's original designs and created an art form entirely their own. In addition to clear and acid-etched glass, they hand paint custom patterns and create elaborate filigree work with hand-twisted wire. Birds, butterflies and even bicycles float inside the bulbs, reminiscent of ships in a bottle.
Although Steve and Susie go to about 24 events a year to sell their art, an even mix of hot-air balloon festivals and art shows, they say Art in the Park is one of their favorites.
"We just love this show," Susie Hoskinson says. "They treat the artists very well, and people seem very supportive of the whole event."
Artist Greg Speiser of Glasgow, Mo., also had positive things to say about his experience at the festival.
"This is my first show ever, and there was definitely an intimidation factor," said Speiser. "But my wife twisted my arm and I submitted three work samples. It's a juried festival, so just the fact that I got in must mean I'm doing something right."
His pieces are constructed from hat forms, mannequin hands, bits of farm machinery, clocks and pretty much anything else he comes across. It's a medium called "sculptural assemblage," a term Speiser wasn't familiar with until an art professor saw his work.
"I was doing these things without knowing what they were called," says Speiser.
He finds things on the internet, in flea markets and antique stores, he says. "It's a bit of a stress reliever. I work full-time and I have two 14-year-olds, so I don't have a lot of free time," he says.
Despite the amount of work involved, Speiser says seeing the response to his creations has been worth the effort.
"I've sold several pieces today and I'm very pleased. I'm getting positive compliments and that's very nice to hear, but when something sells that's the ultimate compliment."
Diana Moxon, executive director of Columbia Art League, says she is glad to see the artists enjoying the show as much as the patrons.
"We try to keep the show fairly small," she says. "We want to attract artists that the public is interested in, and we want to bring the public to the artists, so we've got to balance that equation to make the festival a success."
The Hoskinsons are a part of that balance, and the Nixa, Mo.-based couple finds their own balance working side-by-side.
"We were looking for something to work on together, and this just seemed perfect," says Steve Hoskinson. "Our work benches are right across from each other, so we can bounce ideas back and forth until we get it just right."