At the request of the Franklin Institute—founded in 1824 to honor Ben Franklin and advance the usefulness of his inventions—Drachen Foundation loaned kites from its archive, supplemented by kites from the collection of Scott Skinner, for the commemoration of Franklin’s tercentenary.
Kites by Pierre Fabre, Bill Lockhart, Scott Skinner, and Betty Street will hang in the building’s main rotunda through mid-May 2006. A biographical panel about each kite maker accompanies the display. Stop by if you are in Philadelphia, and watch for Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World: the exhibit will travel to St Louis, Houston, Denver, Atlanta, and Paris after its début in the city of Franklin’s birth.
A graphic designer and illustrator by profession, Pierre Fabre decided in the mid-1980s that he wanted to step into the third dimension. "I started making kites," he says. "They allowed me to fly away from my drawing table." Born and reared in Paris, Fabre took an undergraduate degree in art and set up as a free-lancer but was soon lured into the kite world when he discovered some excellent kite plans in a book.
After successfully making several from blueprints, Fabre, in typically individualistic style, struck out on his own and soon hit on a "sky signals" theme that won him acclaim. He sought kites with the bold look of a railroad semaphore on land or a ship's buoy in the ocean. "The graphics and colors of the kite, inspired by marine signaling, have an imaginary functional look that makes it a flying signal in the sky." From here he looked at all corners of the Earth and found endless material to incorporate into his kites. Here we see a touch of Africa.
Dr. Bill Lockhart
Bill Lockhart was born and raised in West Texas, served as military flier during World War II, earned a doctorate in art education at Pennsylvania State University, and served as professor of art at Texas Tech University in Lubbock for more than thirty years. He is nationally known as an art educator, and has exhibited his sculptures widely.
Lockhart had made kites as a boy and in retirement has become full-time kitemaker, after being reintroduced to the sport by a granddaughter in the early 1980s. “Females tend to lead me astray,” he says. He specializes in brightly colored patchwork kites in the tradition of bed quilts made by his grandmothers. He sees kites as an art form and as a teaching tool in aesthetics.
Born and raised in the Western U.S., Scott Skinner graduated from the Air Force Academy and served seven-and-a- half years as a flight officer, achieving the rank of captain. Initially a KC135 tanker co-pilot, he returned to the academy as a pilot-instructor flying low and slow "bug smasher" T41s. After leaving the Air Force, Skinner earned an MBA at the University of Denver and settled into a career as manager of family investments. Meanwhile, he pursued his kite hobby, "begun in 1975 as a relief from flying planes and because of a continuing fascination with aero-dynamics." He began making kites intensively after learning how to sew. "Living in Colorado is conducive to kitemaking," he says. "It's cold and windy from October through February and that's when I build kites."
Skinner hit on the concept of combining traditional American patchwork quilt designs with traditional Japanese kite forms to create a unique West-East hybrid. From this concept evolved the reproduction of images from Japanese paintings, such as fish or water motifs, that, when pieced together in new combinations, formed surprising, pleasing juxtapositions. A meticulous craftsman, Skinner's large rokkakus, Edos, hexagons and octagons have won him widespread acclaim.
Born, raised and educated in Tennessee, with bachelor's and master's degrees in art from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Betty Street has long since been a converted Texan, having spent over 23 years teaching at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Textile design has been her specialty-batik, dyeing, weaving. From this evolved a fascination with kites, begun when her university colleague, Bill Lockhart, wanted to make a kite but needed instruction in how to sew it. Betty obliged, developing her own patchwork style of design in making images on her sails; both were hooked. Since then she has made some 200 kites and collected many more from her professional trips to Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
With Lockhart, Street conceived, organized and ran an annual kite retreat at Texas Tech's isolated Junction campus, a kind of kite paradise in the central Texas hill country. Workshops featured kite experts from around the world and covered the spectrum of the sport. Beginners and renowned makers shared workshop space with equal enthusiasm and benefit. Classrooms remained open around the clock, so it was not unusual to find kites being made at 3 a.m. The retreat doubled its enrollment in the first three years. Street comments on the retreat: "The sharing among the kite people is so wonderful. It's hard for anyone not to be inspired."