Drachen Foundation Newsletter: April 2009

 The Everlasting Spirit of Kiting

Shakib Gunn, Singapore

Our international kite community has lost a great friend, Shakib Gunn of Singapore.

Three years ago, flying kites in Cambodia, there was not a breath of wind on a typically hot, 110 degree day, and I was lucky to have carried a “light-wind-flyer” and was able to spend most of the day searching for the perfect thermal. I was surprised that night at dinner, when Shakib Gunn of Singapore presented me with an informal “kite flyer of the day” award – a small ceramic bowl – for “working so hard” on the field that day.  Between you and me, I was just out having fun in the sun, but this was Shakib, recognizing efforts of his fellow kite flyers while he was always working so hard himself.

I had met Shakib in New Zealand in 1990 and he was the featured field announcer – a job that he excelled in – keeping kite fans informed and entertained. But it was off the field that he made lasting impressions. Dinners would find him with pen in hand, drawing caricatures of kite personalities, then with lightening-fast hands, cutting and folding the drawings so that they would be a transformable picture; happy Peter, sad Peter. Without notice, there would be Shakib, donning monkey-mask and dressed in Indonesian theater-garb, entertaining the public, fellow kitefliers, or just the child sitting next to him. Behind the scenes, Shakib was a great promoter of kites and kite festivals throughout Asia. Like Dave Checkley from the US, Shakib promoted his local fliers and found a way to have them travel to festivals in Thailand, Japan, China, and beyond. Shakib was instrumental in supporting the Junction International kite retreat, both in his hosting of Americans bill Lockhart and Betty Street in Malaysia and in recommending worthy kite makers for the retreat.

Short in stature but a giant personality that spread nothing but joy, we should all aspire to the standards set by Shakib.

To honor Shakib’s passing, Drachen has initiated a scholarship for participation at the Junction Texas Kite Retreat which is held each year during the Memorial Weekend holiday. Shakib is the premier example of the international friendship of kiting, and he had a special friendship with Junction Kite founders, Betty Street and bill Lockhart. This scholarship will be gifted to the individual by Junction Kite Retreat. For further information contact Judy Kingery at Judyabilene@aol.com


Following the Traditions of Woodblock Printing on Kites

In Japan in the early 18th Century began a great kite-hysteria that lasted through most of the 19th Century. This 200 year period also saw the dramatic rise in popularity of the Kabuki Theater, a time when actors were the most famous citizens in their cities. Another group of artists that were able to exert great influence throughout these times were the artists and carvers who produced woodblock prints. Their most popular subjects were human and natural stars of the local scene; sumo wrestlers, great landmarks, and kabuki actors. 

These artistic classes, of course, were of lower rank than the noble families and their samurai. As their popularity increased, so did their political power, to the point that many local lords passed laws designed to limit the artists’ influence. Politicians forbade printers to publish the images of contemporary actors, the governments were the only authorized publishers of calendars, and as with kites, governors cracked down on extravagant uses of materials (like gold- and silver-leaf as decoration). These parallel developments have led to some of the most interesting woodblock prints, those showing kabuki actors disguised as kites, showing famous actors in scenes painted on kites, or those showing real actors flying kites. In all three examples, printers were avoiding the heavy hand of the censors.

It is natural that The Drachen Foundation is encouraging artists to re-assess the beauty of woodblock printing. It possesses an historic link to Japanese kite making and the Japanese kite tradition.

On March 7 and 8, the Foundation invited renown Portland based printmaker Barbara Mason to conduct a two day workshop on Moku Hanga, Japanese woodblock printing. To simplify the difference between what we as westerners practice in the art of woodblock printing, (printing with thick water based or oil based printers inks, from dry blocks to dry paper….the results being crisp or “hard edged” colors layered over colors) the Japanese woodblock printing is that of a wet on wet process.

The wood blocks are wet as well as the paper. This means the inks permeate the paper, and allow a transparent and “watercolor” like application of areas. 

The process of Moku Hanga has many more steps than western style block printing, uses different media, but for those who give it a try, the end results of “blending” colors captivates and appeals to the “painterly” side of the printmaker.

But judge for yourself; look at the results of just a two day class in Seattle, Washington.

Many of these prints are ready to fly, with the help of kite builders from the Foundation.

This summer, Drachen is proud to announce being a collaborative part of a west coast tour of Kyoto based Japanese woodblock printer, Richard Steiner. He will join us in Portland, Oregon, Seattle and Tieton/Yakima, Washington.

Stay tuned to our newsletter for more information!

- Scott Skinner & Ali Fujino


How to Fill Yoshizumi’s Two Week Schedule in Washington

With the generosity of his own choosing, Japanese kitemaker, Nobuhiko Yoshizumi, decided to donate his mileage airfare to come to the Seattle area for two weeks. One of the most versatile international kitemakers in existence, his resume of kiting is that of one who has lived centuries, not decades. Knowledgeable in both traditional and contemporary Japanese kitemaking practices, he has taken some of the most visionary steps into contemporary kitemaking as well.

There is nothing that frightens him. He’s bold and imaginative with design, either by hand or computer, manipulating color, materials, function and form. Years of making kites, large and small (1 cm) has given him the foundation to do ANYTHING in tethered flight.

His schedule resembled that of a master juggler, keeping everything in the air at once and never letting anything fall to the ground:

1. 4 school and community center workshops

2. One workshop at a local museum

3. Re-design of two Drachen kite kits

(Look for the Yoshi Ichiro Home Plate Kite in the near future)

4. New design on three Drachen kite kits for sale to schools

5. Custom order of 200 completed fish kites (I joke how Yoshi and I were our own little kite factory)

6. A collaborative design for a plastic bag inflatable flyer for Susan Robbs Black Tube installation in Houston, Texas coming this May

7. Two sell out classes of Japanese koi kite making at Fort Worden’s Kite Retreat in Port Townsend, Washington

8. Re-work of DF’s MacPro computer

9. Re-work of two older DF kite kits for schools (making them fly better)

10. Working out the materials for a 2010 art kite exhibit in Bellevue, Washington

11. Working out the kites/exhibition for a 2010 Moku Hanga kite exhibit in Mexico

12. Release of the new handbound art book Yoshizumi by Marquand Books/DF

Just to name a few items... the list is even longer...

We thank everyone who hosted him, Marla and Ron Miller, Greg Kono, Kiyomi Okawa, and Jessica Murphy.

And what does Yoshi get for these two weeks? GREAT stories to tell when back in Japan. As the famed rock star, Steve Miller (Steve Miller Band) was once quoted, “We wouldn’t do these gigs unless it was for the stories...”

Thank you Yoshi


More Moku Hanga 2009

The Richard Steiner Workshop Tour Summer, 2009

Learn how to print Japanese style, “wet on wet”

Chinshi Yu-shih, art critic

I’ve known Richard Steiner as a printmaker from his Hiroshima days in the early 1970’s, when he first began studying under Masahiko Tokumitsu. His early works were assignments from his teacher in the Independent Printmaker Movement, and so reflected that style and technique. The emphasis was more on art than craft, on realistic renderings than pure self-expression. After 10 years, he received his artist's name, Tosai, and a teacher's license, then opened his own workshop in Kyoto. His first student was a young Indian woman, an exchange college student. After her there followed many more foreigners, but the vast majority of students were and still are Japanese.

Richard Steiner was born in Michigan, USA, in 1939. His father was a code maker and breaker for the Army during the war, then a life-long postal employee. His mother was a court reporter and traveler. From her, Richard got his curiosity for going to other countries. Both he and his younger sister, Leslie, have strong creative talents; hers covers both two- and three-dimensional art, while his was originally photography, and after 1970, woodblock printmaking. He is married to Kimiko, a translator and owner at SAT, Steiner Art Translate Bureau. 

Quitting a career in fashion photography in New York City in 1970, Richard accepted a job to teach English in Hiroshima for a private school where he worked for one year. He then taught for another school and also privately until moving in 1972 to Kyoto, which he has made his permanent home. In 1974 he married Kimiko Kuroda from Okayama City. She is an art and religion translator with well over 100 publications to her name.

This is a very brief introduction. As he always says, to understand him, one need only look at his prints; a true artist creates only self-portraits, regardless of what the subject matter seems to be. As the artist's moods change, so does the output of his or her hands. A careful study of Richard's prints will reveal what he is thinking and feeling as well as the trajectory of his oeuvre so far.

Portland, Oregon        
August 17-21 Hosted by McClains Printmaking Supplies

Seattle, Washington
August 22-23, Saturday and Sunday 10-4
August 29-30, Saturday and Sunday 10-4
At this site we will add a small introduction to kitemaking as the Japanese used the art of woodblock printing to mass produce their kites
Sev Shoon Arts Center
2862 NW Market St. Seattle, WA 98107
Hosted by the Drachen Foundation.

Tieton/Yakima, Washington
September 12-13
September 19-20
Hosted by Goathead Press, Tieton Washington


Discourse: New Issue! 

Drachen Foundation announces the fourth issue of our new publication, Discourse: from the end of the line!  In this installment:

-- Investigate kite traditions in China and rethink images of the contemporary Chinese kite maker
-- Consider hydrogen energy and the possible applications of kites
-- Travel to the observatory at Lindenberg before the Wall's fall
-- Discover long lost German Steiff kites, recreated by Germany's masters
-- Take in a photo-essay of kites in Cambodia ...and more!

Click here to open the PDF.