Smithsonian Plans Lease on Life for Old Collection: Trove of Chinese Kites Is a Little Known National Treasure

Authors: 
Ben Ruhe
Article type: 
Journal

After the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of l876, so many countries gave the contents of their national exhibits to the Smithsonian Institution, as the museum arm of the United States Government, that the Smithsonian was obliged to construct a building to house and display these treasures. The museum was called the Arts and Industries Building, and it can be visited today on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., sandwiched between the old Smithsonian Castle and the Hirshhorn art museum. Some of the Centennial objects remain on exhibition to this day.

Among the thousands of gifts were 42 elegant but fragile hand-painted Imperial Chinese paper kites, from Canton, and dated l875 or before. After transfer to the Smithsonian, they promptly went into storage and were only exhumed in l932 when Paul Garber, a curator, organized a kite exhibition at the then National Air Museum, forerunner to the National Air and Space Museum of today. Garber was the Smithsonian’s aeronautics expert and a great kite enthusiast (the soon to be inventor of the World War 11 U.S. military target kite). Back into the warehouse went the large, showy Chinese kites after that showing, out of public view again. They’ve been there ever since, largely inaccessible to scholars and kite enthusiasts.

The Smithsonian is now taking another look at this unique collection of kites—the first flight artifacts accessioned by the institution . Impetus for the reexamination comes from Tom Crouch, chairman of the National Air and Space Museum’s Aeronautics Division.

Page Number: 
30