Drachen: An Unearthed Treasure

A few months ago, I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico to participate in the fabulous Tako Kichi (Japanese kite exhibit) show at The Museum of International Folk Art. While I was there I had time to stop by and visit with Tal Streeter and his wonderful wife Romig.  Tal had a serious stroke over two years ago, and is slowly recovering amidst the beauty of art-rich Santa Fe.  He is still engaged in art and works with friend David Wagner to see completion of a non-profit study center that will be the permanent home for many of Tal’s works as well as his extensive library, amassed during a lifetime of travel and writing.  The impact upon serious kite flyers of Tal’s “Art of the Japanese Kite,” first published in 1974, is difficult to measure but countless friends have told me of the powerful impact the book made upon them. This book was the first to document the Japanese kite.  Tal’s early work with kites reflects his fascination with Japanese kites and is somewhat the basis for much of his own kite designs.

Tal has been involved in a number of kite-related projects over the years, and as I scoured my office for material for this column I found this forgotten gem.

My focus this article is on “Air Born,” an artist’s book produced in 1994 by printmaker and book artist Ann M. Kresge. This boxed book contains five kites, whose sails are prints that incorporate three types of printmaking techniques including etching using metal plates, usually copper, into which the design has been incised by acid, relief printing where protruding surface faces of the printing plate are inked and the recessed areas are ink free, and lastly chine-colle in which images are transferred to a surface that is bonded to a heavier support (backing) in the printing process.  The text is collaboration with poet Melinda Kennedy (as well as Tal Streeter) and the words and imagery lyrically describe the elements of the world: air, water, fire, wind, and earth.  The kite structures are based upon traditional Japanese kites and are inspired by Kresge’s visits to Japan and China.  Tal provides instructions for bridling and flying the kites.

I admit that my favorite part of the book is the one-page set of instructions for finishing and flying the kites.  Tal’s playfulness is exhibited when he cautions, “Sometimes helpers want to assist by throwing the kite up into the air.  This may not help…”  He also offers timeless advice; “kite flying, like baseball and dancing, is not always as simple as it appears or we imagined it would be.  Take care when flying your kite.  Try not to pull it along the ground or tug it out of trees.  Slow down.  Talk to your kite.  Listen for its’ answer – the harmonies of poetry, art, kite, wind, and sky.

The lovely prints by Ann, the poetry of Melinda, and the functional kites by Tal exemplify the collaboration of these three artists and the power of kites to portray a message of harmony with our environment.  We can engage the wind without really being aware of our surroundings, but how much more fulfilling is our pastime if we notice every detail.  My most vivid kite flying memories are tied to the beauty of my surroundings: sun setting over the Great Salt Lake, kites and their shadows above beach fog, frozen kite line in a winter snowstorm, and invisible updrafts lifting kites above Canyon de Chelly (Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located in northeastern Arizona within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation.).

Readers of KiteLife can find reference to another wonderful artist’s book, “Flight of the Butterfly,” by actress Gloria Stuart.  This was a major art book work completed in the 99th year of Gloria’s life (www.drachen.org/bio/gloriastuart)‎.

And see KiteLife issue #60, from 2008, to read more about this Oscar-nominated actress’s lifetime with kites.

A related upcoming event:

Museum of International Folk Art

March 17-23 2014
Kite Making Demonstrations and workshops!

Masaaki Modegi from the Kite Museum of Japan and a Japanese folk kite maker from Japan will conduct public programming in Santa Fe in conjunction with Tako Kichi:  Kite Crazy in Japan. During the week of March 17, the kite maker will demonstrate kite making to school groups and the general public.  On Saturday, Mr. Modegi and the kite maker will participate in Santa Fe Japanese Intercultural Network’s Matsuri (festival).  On Sunday, March 23, 2014 at 1 pm, Mr. Modegi will give a public lecture on Japanese folk kites.  This will be followed by a drop-in, hands-on kite making workshop for ages 3 – 13 and a smaller kite making workshop for adults.

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Author:Scott Skinner

Founder of the Drachen Foundation, Scott has been active in kite making for over 25 years. He is a frequent lecturer, writer, and workshop leader. He has amassed collections of kites, kite ephemera, European kite prints and Japanese ukiyo-e.

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