Drachen Foundation Newsletter: August 2008

Yukio Akiyama: Collaborating to Preserve a Collection for All Generations

Mr. Akiyama first came to Drachen’s attention when a set of origami kite designs were emailed to us from Japan. Although the art of origami has been around for centuries, it has never been a subject of interest or collection in the world of kites. Our archival collection never had any reason to make any origami piece a part of our collection, until now.

Yukio Akiyama is an accomplished Japanese kitemaker from Kanagawa, Japan. He has been interested in many varieties of traditional Japanese kites but his own work focuses on creating his own designs as art kites, using the sky as his canvas. Working both large and small he has published several books on kiting and is the inventor of the “kinetic kite.”

A few years ago, he became interested in making origami fly, and created 8 paper kites, no more than 8 inches in size, which fly indoors and outdoors. The kites are made from traditional sheets of origami paper, in the form of birds, frogs, penguins, dragonflies, butterflies and rabbits. The use of different colored sheets, laminated together, creates almost an animated feeling to each figure. They come to life as they fly, gyrating and dancing in very little wind.

Last winter, Akiyama-san took a giant step further designing flying origami kites. Arriving in our mail, was a box filled of carefully crafted origami kites, a collection of all the traditional shapes of the kites of Japan. All of the figures measure 5-8 inches. Each design is defined by hand cut shapes of different colors of origami paper, when attached with glue, creates the traditional kite.

The traditional tombi, cicada, and yakko maintain their original design, but with cut out contemporary colors. Each kite is then detailed in a line drawing so that one is able to trace the shape on the recommended colored origami paper, to collage and recreate the original kite. In carefully looking at each design, I was impressed with the articulation of the detail in cutouts, and the precision of the cutting and gluing. Even with the drawings and illustrations, few people have the skill and craftsmanship to create these kites. The collection includes 50 kites.

This collection of 50 origami kites indicate a special place in time, a memorable image or images which can be treasured for generations to come. He’s documented the traditional kites in a contemporary way.

After spending a good deal of my professional life in product production, I realize that this set of origami kite is more art than merchandising. Having this set is something that a collector of kites would lust after. Once again, I thank Scott Skinner, collector and founder, who saw the beauty of this set of traditional Japanese origami kites, purchased it and allows us to document the collection for all to appreciate and study.

Judge for yourself!

The Foundation has been given permission to scan the drawings/designs and make them available for enthusiasts to try their hand at recreating the flying forms. This book will be released in 2009.

See Yukio Akiyama's book, Paper Kite Applique Designs, in our online store!


Of Kites, the Titanic, and 98-year-old Dynamos

I’m afraid I have an embarrassing story to tell. There may be any number of lessons to be learned, but at the very least it’s a lesson in keeping your mind open to the unlikeliest of possibilities. It’s also a story appropriate to the Drachen Foundation, as it was on this trip that I met Ali Fujino who would become a cornerstone of the Foundation. So let’s go back to 1988, where the story begins.

Having been involved with kites for over a dozen years, it was time for me to make my first overseas trip specifically for kites. Having met Seattle’s Dave Checkley at AKA Conventions and seeing his remarkable Chinese kites, it was a no-brainer to decide to tag along with David’s Spring, 1988 trip to China. Throughout that Winter I received cryptic missives from Dave on what to expect, how to prepare, what to bring, and how to behave in China. Dave was a master at telling his charges just what they needed to know and nothing else – perhaps a defense to all-out mutiny of weary travelers unaccustomed to the rigors of Chinese travel.

At any rate, because of a family “guilt trip” to Hawaii just prior to my China trip, I would meet Checkley and his Seattle group at Narita Airport, Tokyo, Japan, and then we’d fly together on China Air to Beijing, where our kite adventure would begin. My flight to Narita went without a hitch (you can talk to my wife, Sherry, about her trip back to Colorado with our three children, aged 11, 9, and 6. She’s tried to block this little episode from her memory, but is plagued by flashbacks of airsickness, fatigue, and a broken and aromatic refrigerator.)

But let’s get back to our story. I knew I’d have quite a wait in Narita, and for those of you who might have flown there in the 1980’s and early 90’s, you know there was precious-little in the way of luxury in the round satellite waiting rooms away from the main terminal. A good book and an 800-Yen beer would make the wait bearable. Two hours before takeoff, I could have sworn that Checkley’s group would be here by now! I can’t really remember if he’d ever told me their arrival time, so not to worry. One hour before takeoff, “Okay, they should be here by now and I shouldn’t, but I am getting a little nervous.”

Now I made a mental checklist of all the things I did and didn’t know: Checkley and his group are not here, my China Air ticket is good for this flight, there isn’t another kite flier here that I can turn to for comfort, support, or a plan! (Just before boarding there were exactly three other non-Asians in the now-jammed waiting room; an elderly woman traveling with a man and wife, probably her daughter and son-in-law.) I didn’t know: my hotel in Beijing, a single person in Beijing, or where and how I might find my kite-flying group in this little country town of 10 million people.

Boarding time, no Checkley, ticket in hand, I took that long walk down the boarding ramp to what would now, surely, qualify as an adventure. I have no idea how long that flight lasted, only that we arrived late at night to a city that, from the air, looked deserted – hardly a light anywhere! I thought of ten years before, flying over North Dakota – one of the US’s most sparsely populated states – there had been far more lights there than here! Dragging my feet, leaving the plane, I got my first indication that I was not alone in my adventure. One of the three non-Asians (remember them?) said the magic word, “Checkley.” I quickly identified myself as a fellow tour member and out of mutual desperation we stuck together through immigration and customs, gathered our bags, and took the giant leap out of baggage claim and into China! With no plan except to keep moving forward, I led the group onto the sidewalk where, to my surprise, the magic word was spoken again – this time in broken English by a young Chinese guide – “Checkley.” Success! The local guide assigned to Checkley’s tour had seen my ski bag (kite bag) and had correctly identified us as the kite group. Without incident we were whisked off to our hotel where we could wait in peace for our group leader, Checkley.

As an aside, having gotten nearly no sleep and rising early for the hotel breakfast, I encountered an Asian woman in the restaurant – she’d have her own adventure to tell – who startled me by speaking rapid-fire, perfect English. It was Ali Fujino, a fellow Checkley tour member who I’d get to know in the next two weeks.

Let me finish this part of the story by saying that the trip remains a fantastic blur of events; everyone in some stage of the worst cold I’d ever experienced, directions from our guides given in broken English and then translated into German, French, and Italian by German Karin Zander, five kitchen clocks brought home to Colorado for just the right occasion, and the “three Californians” who just never seemed to fit with the wild and crazy kite group.

Now let’s get to the reason for this story. I said this would be embarrassing and the sad truth is I haven’t come to the embarrassing part yet. So let’s flash forward to 2002 and an invitation to meet actress, Gloria Stuart, at a lecture in Los Angeles. Gloria had just turned 85 and had become famous – again – through her Oscar-nominated performance in “Titanic.” She had been a true Hollywood star in the 1930’s and was all but retired when director James Cameron brought her on board “Titanic.” Sid Burger, paper collector extraordinaire, explained that Gloria was working on a kite book and it would be interesting for us to hear her speak and to offer help if she needed. It would also be our chance to see Sid’s amazing collection of paper. Sid had been introduced to Ali at a Los Angeles Getty conservators’ workshop and she had immediately been drawn to his voracious collector’s appetite. At the Santa Monica Library, Sid conducted a lively, informal interview with Gloria while selections of her work were displayed in the foyer. This was no ordinary Hollywood actress! Her books, each made completely by hand, were small masterpieces; type set by hand, original color lithography, engravings, and original poetry. Each showed the caring soul that is Gloria Stuart.

During her lecture, the subject of kites was raised and I became convinced that here was a kindred spirit. She had traveled, on the eve of WWII, to Asia and had encountered kites there. She is pictured in her autobiography with husband Arthur Sheekman holding a Thai Chula. She continued to be fascinated by kites and surprised Ali and I by mentioning a trip to Japan in “the late 70’s” with, you guessed it, Dave Checkley! What a small world and what an easy way for us to break the ice when we’d finally meet.

Now you’ve probably put two and two together, but though she might deny it, neither Ali nor I connected this “famous Gloria Stuart” with that nice old lady who had traveled with us in China. But we had plenty to talk about, anyway, and were thrilled to be invited to her home to see her printing operation. We were treated to see her art all around her as well, many of her own lithographs, her paintings (including renderings of the Watts Towers and kites, nearby), her books, and even her extraordinary garden. Gloria had at least 20 mature rare Bonsai trees in her beautiful miniature plant world.

Finally, let’s make a final flash-forward to the most recent series of events with our friend Gloria. (This is the embarrassing part.) As one of the founding members of the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG), Gloria is a popular speaker with actors, students, and the public. It was in this role that she was invited to Seattle in the fall of 2002. She would speak to SAG members, participate in kite making at the Foundation, and have time to visit the Foundation archives to help push her book forward. Gloria would be accompanied on this trip by her artist-assistant Alwyn O’Mara and by Gloria’s daughter, Sylvia Thompson (whom we’d never met – or so we thought!).

Upon meeting in baggage claim it was “smiles and greetings” all around until I looked into the face of Sylvia, Gloria’s Daughter. The flash of recognition was immediate and memories of 1988, and China, and my three Narita adventurers came flooding back. Here is where I remembered Sylvia’s voice, in China, saying something about “mother was a Hollywood star.” There was recognition on Sylvia’s part, too. As we were loading bags she kept repeating, “Mother where did you meet these people.” (She had been out of town when we’d met Gloria in LA) She knew she knew us! I glanced at Ali as we jumped into the van and knew that she had “seen the light” as well. We could hardly contain our shock, surprise, and embarrassment as we traveled on to martini hour and dinner.

After a quick aside, where Ali admitted that she, too had now connected all the dots, I told her that we had to “fess up.” With a final gulp of liquid courage, I sat down and explained all. Well, we all got a good laugh and it couldn’t have hurt anyone’s feelings, because the happy ending is right around the corner.

In early 2006, the Drachen Foundation honored Gloria at a reception held at Los Angeles’ Japanese American Community Cultural Center, where pages of her butterfly-kite book were unveiled to the public for the first time. A labor of love, this book, shaped like a butterfly, has eight pages featuring kites. Every page is an original work of art that includes lithography, collage, and hand-set print. Gloria’s life-long love affair with kites has come to life in this new book and Gloria graciously donated the kite pages to the Drachen Foundation where they will be prepared for a traveling exhibition of Gloria’s book- and kite-craft. Gloria qualifies as a living archive and we’re happy to call her a friend of the Drachen Foundation.



Peter Lynn Disposing of 37-Year Trove: 40 Tons of Kite Gear as a Giveway

After 37 years manufacturing kites, Peter Lynn has retired. Well, sort of.

Although the New Zealander has moved from direct involvement in manufacturing and distribution, he has retained ownership of the Peter Lynn brand name and remains actively involved in designing and continues to circle the globe flying his creations at kite festivals, where they are customarily the star attraction because of their large size and attractive appearance. Meanwhile, the inventor and showman works on a project that has intrigued him for two decades now----perfecting the sport of kite sailing. He hopes this kind of boating will become the next major extreme sport and feels this is reasonably close to happening.

As a result of re-organisation at his main licensee, Vlieger Op (Fly Up!) in The Hague, Holland, with which he was long associated, Peter acquired masses of kite residue sitting in two warehouses in that Dutch city. The holding constitutes an awesome 40 or more tons of material, estimates Lynn. Included are two tons of fiberglass tubing, 700 rolls of ripstop nylon, fittings, string, kite boards, kite buggies, and thousands of unsold kites, most in their original packaging. Also, harnesses, helmets, wet suits and lots more. All told, three container loads. Most of the materials are new while the used items are of archival value, says Lynn.

What to do with this vast, disparate trove? For a start, Lynn decided to give it away.

But because he felt he couldn’t turn loose this mass of material on the Western world where it would skew the retail kite market, he looked to the developing nations in Asia, with their deep cultural involvement in kites. Bali came to mind. Having participated in kite flies on that beautiful Indonesian island, Lynn had long been struck by the deep relationship the locals have to kiting. “Kite flying is not recreational or a hobby to the Balinese,” says Lynn, “but at the heart of their culture. I saw one kite with a tail 636 feet long, being flown by 18 people. This was a village project, financed by the Balinese themselves. The kite cost a reported $12,000 in material to make. These were people earning $12 a week. In this instance, though, the locals obviously received corporate and government support. The villagers are so poor, in fact, they often have to use dress fabric instead of prohibitively expensive ripstop. Yet they show phenomenal creativity.”

In addition to the three famous traditional kites to be seen in the skies, Balinese make modern day kites in any design they care to----ships with a full rig of sails, gaudy jungle birds, some really crazy things. “Any one of a dozen or more of these ‘creative’ kites blows away any Western kite,” he says.

So it was to Indonesia that he looked. Trouble right away. “National customs would give me no commitment on what duty it would levy,” he says. “At one point I heard 300 percent of assessed value might be charged----a ripoff. Also, risk of customs seizure removed any assurance the materials would eventually go to valid recipients”.

Lynn looked elsewhere for entry into Asia. He immediately thought of the ASEAN Kite Council. ASEAN stands for Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a trade and cultural alliance with 11 members-and they have a committee to promote kiteflying. Their deputy chairman is Hussin Haron (well known power behind the Pasir Gudang Kite Festival in Malaysia), ably assisted by Orlando Ongkingco, of Manila and a committee comprising other national representitives.

The ASEAN Kite Council agreed to handle the matter and set up a committee which includes as members donor Lynn and kite expert Scott Skinner, president of the Drachen Foundation, of Seattle. Initially it was hoped that distribution to the ASEAN region could be through Johore, in Malaysia, where there is a local royal family enthusiastically supporting the sport, a massive yearly kite festival, and an outstanding kite museum. Unfortunately duty free entry for the donation could not be arranged within probable time limits so the entry point then had to be shifted again- to Singapore. Import plans there are now proceeding, with the Drachen Foundation agreeing to pay reasonable customs levies.

Says Lynn, “Our plan is that distribution will be quick; it should occur within a year after arrival of the materials in Singapore. A list of deserving kitemakers, well known from festivals and exhibitions, is being compiled, with some proportion of everything going directly to them. Applications from regional kite associations will also be considered and some more historic items will probably settle in museums and collections. We want to keep things as simple as possible.”

About the possible press response this gift may provoke, he responds by rolling his eyes. He does say, “Giving things away is much more difficult than I thought it would be.”

In an interview, Lynn reflects on his business career going back to the l960s. He was working for his father in his booming joinery business at that point. “He had contracts all over New Zealand,” recalls Lynn, “and in particular was doing the fittings paneling and doors for the new Parliament building in Wellington, a prestigious matter. He had a staff of more than 80 at that time.”

“Ending the post-World War II boom, New Zealand was entering a recession in the l970s, at the same time the joinery business was changing. Solid wood gave way to processed board and aluminum windows and neither my father nor I were pleased with this development. We were too purist. My father, recognizing that my interests lay in different directions, we decided to taper-off and eventually cease joinery manufacturing. This process was completed by the middle ‘80s- and taught me a LOT about management!”.

“My father, Bob, was in his middle 50’s as he disengaged after a 40 year career (having started work as an apprentice joiner at 15) Now in his mid 90’s, he has had as many years of ‘retirement’ as he had of work. Always interested in the history and practice of woodworking he has became a world authority and writer in this specialty. His collection of historic woodworking tools, equipment, and archives, including the world’s largest collection of (originally fabulously expensive) ornamental turning lathes, is on view at a museum he has founded at a colonial era museum park in Ashburton (near Christchurch). It’s the finest collection of its kind in the world.”

Peter Lynn notes that his father for a long time has been almost totally deaf. “It was hard for me to communicate well with him. There have been so many things that we would have really enjoyed discussing, but this just hasn’t been possible except in stilted exchanges. But of course, it has been even more difficult for him. Bob’s deafness is congenital. I’ve got it too as have some of my children. In fact Bob has two kinds of deafness----physical, he can’t hear a sound. And neurological. It might have been an advantage to him in a way, permitting him to concentrate without distractionl- though much less affected than he is, I certainly value this aspect!”

From the early ‘70’s Peter had started small businesses in woodturning, wooden games and puzzles, wooden toys, and kite making. He also set up a small engineering business, which amongst other things, developed a new style of portable sawmill system for cutting logs. The former system used two blades, his used one. His “tipping blade” system used a single circular sawblade which rotated 90 degrees at the end of each pass through a log, to enable the production of sawn timber in one operation. “I patented it, built seven, sold them all,” says Peter. “I allowed the patent to lapse after a raiding company entered the field. Later the concept became the world standard portable sawmill system.”

A great storyteller, Peter can’t resist adding a denouement. “One company turned out 3,000 of the devices,” he says, “another firm 900. They were just two of the companies using the principle. I was called in a court case 20 years after I had given up the patent. Two companies were claiming the invention was their own.”


Making History at Kite Makers Conferences

Several years back, the Drachen Foundation board of directors thought to give $500. scholarships to kite workshop retreats who would bring international kite makers to their venues to bring together new approaches to kiting. The criteria for participating was simple,work with Drachen to invite an international kitemaker of excellent quality either in contemporary or traditional kite making, send us proof of their airfare, a certificate of your non profit status, and we would support your choice by cutting the check.

Since this program was initiated, we have seen representation from the Philippines, Germany, France, and Colombia, just to name a few of the countries and cultures.

This year, Fort Worden Kitemakers Conference invited Paul and Helene Morgan to teach the “Basque Kite.” Below is a charming report by FWK board member and activist, Ron Miller:

Wow! The Fort Worden Kitemakers Conference of 2008 celebrated their 25 th anniversary! Once again the Curriculum Committee was a victim of it’s own success. The most numerous feeback comments we received is that, “there are too many good classes and not enough time.” Personally, I like that problem. It means we are doing our job.

In April of 2007, after the conference of the same year, the Curriculum Committee starts looking at a new search of future teachers for 2008. One of the names that stood out from our evaluation form was Helene Morgan, and her “Basque” kite. Paul and Helene Morgan had taught at the conference in 2005 and Helene had brought along a kite she had made in years past for a raffle donation. It was the “Basque” kite. The kite is a cheeky design by Helene, and when made, each one is different either in color or in decoration. They are decorated with bows, ribbons, feathers and lace. Each come with a matching tail. Attendees loved it, remembered it and asked that we invite Hellen to teach it. So we started the process of asking Helene to fill out our “application to teach.”

In the end, she and her husband Paul became one of our 2008 teachers.

The Basque is just one of the wide range of kites made by Paul and Helene Morgan of Sky Bums who have been designing nad building high quality high performance kites in Shropshire, England since 1986.

Both Paul and Helene went to Shrewsbury Art School before going ot Art College. Paul took a course in illustration and Graphic Design in Cambridge a nd Helene studied Fashion and textiles along with business studies in Brighton.In 1982, just before the birth of their second son, Dominic, they took two year old Jonathan on holiday to the coast and bough an inexpensive plastic octopus kite. Jon had as much fun splashing in puddles and eathing sand, but the kite was flown all day and the Morgans became hooked. From that day forward, kites became a bigger part of life until in 1986, Morgan Kites was setup, and they sold kites to the public and other kite retailers.

In 1991, they wrote “The Book of Kites” (published as “The Ultimate Kite Book” in America), and in 1992, changed the company name to Sky Bums, which coincided with the opening of their shop in Shrewsbury. By 1995, they decided shop keeping was not for them and returned to what they do best, designing and building kites. Paul and Helene still work full time from home and produce all their kites themselves. They run workshops for schools, teachers, art centers and kitefliers and can be found on the field at kite festivals most weekends throughout the summer. In 1998 they also took over the organization of their local Shrewsbury Kite Festival. Today, Paul and Helene can offer you a special custom kite, one off the shelf or just friendly help and advice. Contact them at www.skybums.net.

I took their class at Fort Worden and it was fun, fun, fun. Need I say more?”

Look forward to more international kite making and classes at Fort Worden Kite Retreat (http://www.kitemakers.org/) and AOK Kite Retreat in Oregon. (http://www.oregonkiteclub.com/index.htm)


2008 Wildwoods International Kite Festival

Drachen Foundation - "Wildfish" Kite Workshop
By Ronda Brewer

The Drachen Foundation is a “maker of memories.” Over the years their generous support of various events has enabled a diverse and talented group of people to teach, share, and enjoy the varied aspects of the world of kites and the community of kiting. Over the years, my husband, Lindsey Johnson, and I have been involved with Drachen in a number of these events.

The challenge to present a workshop where learning and kite education was a priority and was intriguing to us. We wholeheartedly accepted the challenge and set to work developing presentations that would be fun and informative. At the 2007 Wildwoods International Kite Festival in Wildwood, New Jersey we presented the Phantom Star Kite. It was a hit. We had a great time there and had done our best to represent the Drachen Foundation in a manner that would justify their generous funding.

Evidently, we had proved our worth. We were very excited when we received the news we would be going back to Wildwood for the 2008 festival. What an honor for us to be offered a return trip. We put together a plan for the event that we hoped would again prove the value in sending us to New Jersey to share our techniques for building kites made of DuPont © Tyvek ©.

We knew we had to come up with something as innovative and easy to fly as the Phantom Star Kite. We played with a few designs but finally decided on an adaptation of a kite that Robert Trépanier had given to me several years ago. We didn’t want to copy Robert’s design so we did a number of modifications until we had a kite we knew would be easy to assemble, would fly well in a variety of wind conditions, and that we could claim as our own creation. We named the new kite, “Wildfish”.

Lindsey cut out all the “Wildfish” sails on his CNC (Computer Numerical Control) router using a special tangential knife. It was a lot easier and faster than cutting them all out by hand.

Of course we had to test fly our creations. What better place than at the beach on the beautiful Central Oregon coast? One of our favorite places to fly kites is at the D-River Wayside in Lincoln City. It is right at the center of town and it is just a few steps from the parking lot to the beach. On most days, the unobstructed wind blows in gently from the ocean. The sunsets are often spectacular and make great backdrops to awesome pictures. It is an almost perfect place to fly kites.

Because of all of the above, this is where two of the three Lincoln City kite festivals are held annually. The only drawback to the location is the occasional meandering of the D-River. For most of the year the D River, the world’s shortest river, flows along the North side of the parking lot and then goes straight out to the ocean. A few times out of the year, it takes a turn to the south and runs parallel to the seawall for several hundred yards and then turns west to join the ocean. Usually, it does this just before a Lincoln City kite festival.

The thought of flying our creations on our beach, then traveling across the country to fly them on the New Jersey shore was exciting to us. The “Wildfish” was fully tested and we were confident we had a kite that would perform well. We packed our supplies and shipped ahead what we could. Because we had been to Wildwood before, we knew what to expect and were able to take just what we needed.

After a slightly delayed flight and a challenging rendezvous with other kiters in Philadelphia, we finally arrived at Wildwood. We had time to get settled in at the hotel and then went to the Conference Center to organize our workshop supplies for the following morning’s kite building class. We also set up the information tables containing pens, patches, pictures, and fliers about the Drachen Foundation and www.PhantomStarDesign.com.

The organizers were wonderful to work with and they appreciated the effort we put into presenting our workshops. They arranged for volunteers to help with the preparation and execution of the workshops. The volunteers were incredible and worked as hard as we did to help everyone construct their kites.

We enjoyed working with the participants and knew we had exposed them to a unique kiting experience. Who knows?? Maybe someday, someone will approach us and tell us of their first kiting memory and that we had been a part of it. Wait a minute... that’s already happened!