With a festival that has run for over thirty years, one that emphasizes the worldwide cultural importance of kites, it is appropriate that Dieppe, France is front-and-center as a kite festival that must be seen. But this year, at Dieppe, a more powerful legacy of kites was found six blocks from the flying site. It was the wonderful collection of Robert Devautour kites in an exhibition organized by Thierry Nénot. Here were two generations of Dieppe kite builders, fliers, and researchers, bound to each other and to the rich history of French kite making.
Robert Devautour (1921-2001) came to kites in a vacuum, it seems. In this remote town, much of his work was done before any serious correspondence or contact with other French kite makers. He was secure in trusting his childhood kite memories and in using his construction skills to make new, original kites using contemporary materials of the day (wood, plastic, double-sided tape, polyester string). With a lifetime devoted to flying objects, notably model airplanes, he began a systematic exploration of kites. He numbered his kites consecutively as he built them, so it is easy to follow his progress from simple to more complex forms. As he discovered new forms, he made variations that were, in fact, “new” kites: winged box kites, swept-wing boxes, deltas, and birds.
Devautour’s construction techniques can be overlooked because of materials that we might now call “primitive.” But a close examination reveals brilliant uses of the materials and an economy of usage that is second-to-none.