Drachen Foundation Newsletter: August 2007

Newly Acquired Archival Item: Paper Japanese Kite

The Drachen Foundation often receives generous archival donations from unexpected places. Seldom is any donation turned down, as one can never determine the worth of an object before it is seen.

Recently, Robert Searfoss of Atlanta, Georgia, contacted the Foundation in order to donate a much-loved Japanese kite that had become too delicate for display and was beyond his scope of restoration. Thus, Searfoss sent a picture to the Foundation and shared with us a kite design that neither director Ali Fujino or board president Scott Skinner had seen before. Needless to say, the Drachen Foundation was delighted to receive this offer.

The kite was received folded in three parts on natural fold lines and attached to a plank of wood to keep it flat and secure during travel. Syran wrap and tin foil were used to secure the kite to the plank instead of tape and to keep it dry. The brittle paper sail was cracked and had lost several pieces, though much of the paper sail is still intact.

Searfoss had used the kite as a decorative piece, liking the bold design and recognizing it as similar to a patented cattle brand. The star-shaped paper and bamboo kite, purchased nearly 40 years ago as a decorative item, looks to be a well crafted commercial Japanese children’s kite—stamped with a “Made-in-Japan” symbol written in English. The paper is painted red, orange and navy, leaving white corners that have yellowed with age. A black target-like symbol was either hand printed or screen printed in the middle of the sail. String is glued into the edges of the square sail in order to keep the sail taut. A silver lame foil has been glued to frame this area. Though one can’t be sure, as the paper has deteriorated so much, the kite looks to have once supported a four-point bridle.

On the back, reinforcement papers are located at the corners. At one time, the kite had been repaired with thin piece of stiff paper. Like other traditional Japanese kites, the five bamboo vertical spars had been wrapped to ensure proper attachment to the paper. Two thin cross spars secure the top and bottom of the kite. An additional cross spar is notched at the ends in order to attach to a string glued into the edges of the kite. It looks like the cross spar may have made the kite bow a little bit.

When the Foundation receives an artifact of such cultural worth and delicacy, the first object is to draw up a plan to stabilize the piece for study. When it arrives, the package is carefully opened, with detailed photographs taken of all aspects of the piece and its packing material. Then, materials used, dimensions, and any distinguishing features are documented. Finally, the object is archivally stabilized, and a plan is developed for its future.

In the case of this kite, an archival tissue will be applied to the back of the kite to maintain the shape’s integrity. Then, the piece will be framed. Once this has happened, the object should not be removed again for study, as it is so very fragile. A detailed photograph of the kite’s backside will be archived along with the framed kite, allowing researchers access to the information without again disturbing its rest.

As this is happening, we try to collect as much information about the object as possible by talking with the previous owner or finder, contacting kite “experts,” and trying to find other examples in existence. Then, plans are drawn up for replication. Then all the information is readied and made available to kite enthusiasts worldwide.


Mega Moon Flies Over Okinawa, Japan

The call came from director of the Tokyo Kite Museum, Masaaki Modegi. “The Japan Kite Association has the opportunity to fly the world’s largest kite at a gathering in Okinawa, on the island of Ishigaki.”

Flying large kites is a difficult endeavor, and takes much planning even for those who are experienced. Thus, Modegi asked DF board president Scott Skinner and Blake Pelton to direct the flying of Mega Moon, one of the three largest kites engineered by Peter Lynn during the weekend of June 22 nd –24 th. Training a team of volunteers on site, they carefully read wind conditions and made sure—after a test fly—that all was lined up fly the large kite safely.

While on Ishigaki island, Skinner was delighted to find a very special traditional Japanese kite style that wasn’t familiar to him. These elaborately beautiful Pigida kites from Ishigaki island, are famous for their multiple long, skinny spars. With rhomboid shape, bamboo lattice and laminated paper, they were adorned with hummers for the festival. Traditionally, these kites are white, though the one Skinner purchased, made by young kite maker, Kazuhiko Yosekawa, was painted more contemporarily.

Also featured as a speciality to this area were traditional bamboo “butterfly” line climbers called Shakushime. The butterfly design and colors are typical Okinawa style, where these line climbers are called Futan.


World Kite Museum Signage Project

On Wednesday, June, 15 th, Drachen Board member Keith Yoshida and DF staff Kiyomi Okawa visited the World Kite Museum in Long Beach, Washington, to install the first phase of a DF 2007 grant for interpretive and directional signage.



Massaki Modegi Book Signing at Ocean Shores

The Drachen Foundation would like to invite all attendees of the 2007 American Kitefliers Association’s annual convention in Ocean Shores, Washington to celebrate Masaaki Modegi’s new book The Making of Japanese Kites: Tradition, Beauty, Creation.

On Friday, October 5th, Drachen will be hosting a coffee and tea book signing with Modegi in the Shiloh Hotel Hospitality room from 8.30 to 10 AM. Pastries, juice and coffee will be provided.

The book, created in cooperation with the Japanese Kite Association includes background information on Japanese kite styles and directions for construction of 15 traditional Japanese kites.

All proceeds from the book sales will be donated to the World Kite Museum.

The Making of Japanese Kites: Tradition, Beauty, Creation
Softcover, color, 112 pages.


Umbowers Chinese Kite Collection

Bob and Charmayne Umbowers of Gig Harbor, Washington, generously gave the Drachen Foundation an opportunity to photograph their Chinese kite collection for viewing on our website as an example of an important kite culture.

The collection is composed of kites collected through travel in China during the 1990s, purchased from Ken Conrad’s Great Winds kite store, and the American Kitefliers Association. Most of the kites were purchased solely with the desire to fly in mind, though some were already too old or delicate when obtained and had to remain archived only. Others have since been decommissioned from flying as they have aged and become more delicate. However, Bob and Charmayne’s main objective in collecting is to see their kites in flight.

Interested in kiting for over 17 years, Bob and Charmayne are a very unique husband/wife team, together constructing exquisite reproductions of kites both historical and contemporary. They have traveled extensively while learning about kites and have taught numerous workshops both in the U.S.A. and internationally.

The Umbowers’ collection of Chinese kites grew from great appreciation of their beauty, their color, and their imaginative construction. Says Charmayne, “Neither Bob or I have anything dripping out of our fingers that could replicate these—they are just beautiful, they’re full of meaning, and they look so realistic in the sky.”

The Drachen Foundation is fortunate to add these photos to our website to give researchers an access to good examples of Chinese kites. We hope to add other such kite collections in the future.


Wildwood Kite Festival

The Drachen Foundation receives many invitations to participate in kite festivals; sadly, we are able to participate in only a handful of these events. With the Foundation’s mandate to work within an educational area, a partnership must be developed with the festival’s organizers with this in mind.

This year, the organizers of Wildwoods International Kite Festival in Wildwood, New Jersey, proposed an educational format to work with both spectators of the festival and with teachers and students in neighboring schools.

This year, Drachen Foundation board members selected to sponsor a kite program at the festival with Ronda Brewer and Lindsey Johnson of Oregon. Over the past five years, these two have focused on an innovative use of Tyvek® kit kits, allowing both beginners and experts to gain experience in kite making. Teaching a star variation of their 4’ Tyvek® No-sew Rokkaku Kite kit, Brewer and Johnson led a kite making workshop using their kite kit as well as workshops focusing on how to design and build your own kite. During these sessions, participants included families, teachers, and a few kite fliers that had never built a kite before.

“We were really impressed with the number of families that participated in the Phantom Star Kite workshops,” comments Brewer, “We took a lot of pictures of happy kite builders and their new creations.”