All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was an artist. Little did I know I would become an aeronaut along the way.
From kindergarten on through college enrollment as a Fine Arts major at Michigan State University, my life centered on art. As a child I took classes at the Flint Institute of Art and, as a student, entered many art shows and fairs, winning recognition at the state level in painting and drawing. The art room was my sanctuary and while I absolutely worshipped my art teachers, I didn’t want to teach art, I just wanted to do it.
While still in high school however, horizons suddenly changed in 1968 when by a strange stroke of good fortune, my father, Frank Pritchard, and I started hot air ballooning. Completely captivated by the magic in each dramatic moment and the peaceful perspectives that were revealed as a colorful pile of fabric became a vehicle to carry us aloft, it simply seemed a different creative dimension. Clearly, the balloon was out of the bag and there was no putting it back.
I graduated from high school in 1970, the same year my father won the first BFA National Hot Air Balloon Championships. And in 1971, while still a Fine Art Major at Michigan State University, I became the first National Intercollegiate Hot Air Balloon Champion. As my involvement in all aspects of lighter-than-air aviation intensified, I quit teaching special education in 1978 to pursue a professional career in ballooning.
This began my life as an aeronaut on a broader scale, including among other things, attending Fiesta, organizing national educational seminars, races and rallies, competing in national competitions, selling balloons and training pilots. I earned my gas balloon rating in 1981, set 20 Feminine World Records in gas balloons (launching from Albuquerque’s first America’s Challenge) in 1995 and continued to fly hundreds of hours every year, accumulating over 4000 hours in balloons.
As commercial pilot and owner of balloon businesses in Dallas, Texas, and Vail, Colorado, I found many outlets for creative expression. Consumed with my full-time ballooning career, I still managed to pursue my love of the arts, producing periodic works in watercolor, acrylic, photography and mixed media. I was an active member of several arts organizations, including serving for several years on the board of the Vail Valley Arts Council and also as its Interim Executive Director.
Living and flying out West ignited my interest in plein air painting. In the 1990’s, I began oil painting and studied with Clyde Aspevig and Joseph Abrescia. My life-long love of black and white photography was also deepened while taking courses at the University of Northern NM during the years I lived (and flew balloons!) in Taos, NM. Throughout the last 30 years, I exhibited in various juried and non-juried art shows in Colorado, New Mexico and Michigan. Bound now to terra firma - yet still consumed by my love for ballooning – I am again, finally, re-focusing my energy on creative expression.
Thus, you see, I really was an artist before I was an aeronaut. And now after 50 years flying balloons, my incredible life has come full circle.