Article by Scott Skinner
Photos by Cliff and Jerry Pennell
A very large hole in our sky has been created by the passing of Canadian kitemaker Art Ross. Art and his wife, Inge, have been fixtures at so many of the Northwest US Coast’s kite festivals and, of course, he was active in his own British Columbia as well. Art created and refined large parafoils (his Red Baron was 2000 sq ft in area) and with Westport, Washingont’s Doug Hagaman, made the Northwest Coast the center of parafoil design and flight. Art’s large-scale creations were designed to pull less than more traditional designs like Doug’s in order to compensate for their ever-increasing size – he also added functional tails that added to the majesty of his creations.
At festivals around the world (Art flew in both Asia and Europe as an invited guest of many countries) and in the Pacific Northwest, Art and Inge were always close by to give a cheerful “hello,” or, in Inge’s case, to spirit the females away on a local shopping trip. “I never did the kites, I was the great member of the kite wives,” revealed Inge. Art was always willing to sit down and talk “foils” and was an active advocate for large kite safety. His large kites and the responsible way he flew them were examples for all to follow.
Art and Inge were born in Germany and separately made their way to Canada as young adults. In Germany, Art studied calligraphy and painting, which served him well in the design of kites and his chosen profession as a commercial painter. The two met at a German social club in Vancouver, and became the wonderful pair that we knew on kite fields around the world. They had no children, but Inge explained, “we had no children, that’s why I spoiled him rotten.”
Art’s first hobby outside of his professional life was that of scuba diving. He was certified in Vancouver and dove with a local club for over 10 years. Inge and Art made 36 trips to Hawaii, and Art was always in the water. As he got older, it became apparent to him that scuba diving was not the hobby to continue. One day while strolling on the beach near the Vancouver airport, he saw a small child flying a kite and the joy she was having in flying. He came back from that walk, thinking that kites might be a good pastime. He researched and found a local kite store and the Vancouver kite club. It wasn’t long before he was designing what he felt were “flying kites,” that of a big scale, not a small scale. Research and kites led him to Doug Hagaman, but gave him the confidence to go about design and production of the large scale kites his own way. As Inge explained, “His small hobby was not small at all, and he took over the basement, the garage and well, just about all the space we had. There was nothing he wouldn’t figure out…He didn’t know how to sew, but he taught himself how, and did all the work by himself. My favorites were the Mickey Mouse and My Fair Lady, Art knew how to please the crowds,” declared, Inge.
With the help of their close friends John and Mary Abbottsford, Art’s kites will be gifted to the World Kite Museum in Long Beach, Washington. With the help of safe foil flyers, it is hoped that the kites will take to the skies again.
Art was a longtime member of the British Columbia Kitefliers Association (BCKA) and was active in both the Oregon Kitefliers Association (OKR) and Washington Kitefliers Association (WKA). Since taking up kites as an adult in 1978, Art made over 19 large-scale foils, most of them taking many winter months to build. By starting with interesting sail images and adding decorative tails and tubes, Art made kites that were sure to please festival spectators or passersby in his local park. We will so miss his ready smile, hearty handshake, and fantastic creations.