The 2016 Hot Air Affair is this weekend in Hudson, kicking off Friday with activities continuing through Sunday.

This year Hot Air Affair (HAA) is celebrating the rich culture of art with the 2016 theme “Paint the Sky” and what better way to do this than to highlight the work of world famous balloon artist Charlie Markert.

In addition to the 30-plus balloons in Hudson this weekend for the annual Hudson Hot Air Affair, presented by WESTconsin Credit Union-Hudson, four vintage hand-painted balloons by Charlie Markert will be on display.

The Hot Air committee had a special acknowledgement for Ed Chapman for coordinating the Charlie Markert balloons on display, including: the "Amadeus" balloon which will be inflated and displayed by Ed Chapman; the "Carousel" inflated and displayed by Tim Markert, Brad and Colette Vandergon; "Cap'n Boo" inflated and displayed by Joe and Sonia Chapman; and "Molly & Me" inflated and displayed by "Gus" Gustafson.

E.P. Rock Elementary School will be the hub of activity on Saturday with the first hot air balloon launch scheduled at 7:30 a.m. If the balloons don’t fly in the morning, they’ll try again on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. The final launch is scheduled for Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. The popular Moon Glow or Field of Fire will be at 6:30 Saturday night.

Markert became interested in balloon art after seeing hot air balloons at the Minneapolis Aquatennial many years ago. An artist since childhood, Charlie attended the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, California. After that he served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army 11th Airborne Division. While on base in Augsburg, Germany, Charlie studied with German artists. After his military service, Charlie continued his portrait art while working for Pacific Outdoor Advertising where he trained for four years to learn how to paint intricate billboards.

Markert came to Minneapolis to work for Naegele, painting backdrops for the theater for ballet companies. His billboard and backdrops training of how to paint portraits in a large format is what lead him to painting hot air balloons.

Markert’s first balloon artwork was the Golden Grahams balloon for Matt Wiederkehr at Matt's balloon port in Lakeland in 1979.

“The hot air balloons are so beautiful, they remind me of parachutes,” Markert said. “It all started with one project that just lead to another. I called it Sky High Art.

“Working on balloons you always have to stand back. You need to be back at least five feet away so you can see it in a larger scale; so you don’t get tunnel vision.”

Markert would sketch the design on the seven story-high balloon envelopes with a piece of charcoal taped to the end of an old fishing pole.

He moved to Chanhassen, Minn., where he refurbished a barn to use as his art studio. He had six acres; it was very peaceful and he had plenty of room to inflate the balloons.

Balloons are no longer made by traditional hand-painting. They are now made with computer-generated graphics printed on flat fabric that is then cut and sewn into a balloon envelope.

Markert combined his love of outdoor beauty and realism to create this unique art form of painting beautifully realistic portraits on hot air balloons. Markert’s remarkable balloons will on display at the Hot Air Affair.

Visitors can meet Charlie Markert and learn how he created his Sky High Art on Saturday, Feb. 6, 1:30 - 2:30 p.m. at the E. P. Rock Marketplace.

Other activities

The winter festival kicks off Friday night, Feb. 5, with the Torchlight Parade (7 p.m.), featuring blasts of flames from the balloon units, marching kazoo bands and “Paint the Sky” theme units. Fireworks follow the parade.

Hot Air Affair activities start during the day on Friday with the retail button promotion. Pick up your button at participating businesses and look for your winning number. Hot air balloon pilots will also present education programs at Hudson schools on Friday.

Check out musical offerings both Friday and Saturday nights at numerous locations throughout Hudson including: Negret Wine Company, Dick’s Bar & Grill, Urban Olive and Vine and Plaza Lounge.

Saturday’s schedule at E.P. Rock School will also include outdoor activity with the ever-popular smoosh boarding (1 p.m.), kite flying (noon-3 p.m.) and ice carving (1 p.m.). Inside the school, a concession area and marketplace (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) will offer food, beverages and craft fair and marketplace shopping options. Stop by for the kids painting presented by Cheers Pablo, veggie races and more. Entertainment at the school during the day on Saturday will feature singing by The Attendants and dancing by Hudson Dance Academy.

Other weekend activities include: a pancake breakfast at the Masonic Temple on Saturday, starting at 7 a.m.; the Up, Up & Away 5K fun run/walk is at 10 a.m.; and Angel’s Pet World will host a pet costume contest at 2 p.m.

For a complete schedule of events see the insert in this week’s Star-Observer on pages 2C and 3C or go to www.HudsonHotAirAffair.com. The event will also be posting flight decisions and other timely notices on Facebook and Twitter.

The Hudson Hot Air Affair is coordinated by a nonprofit community volunteer organization. Look for brochures with money saving coupons throughout the Hudson community.