Drachen Foundation Newsletter: January 2007

DF Study Center Visitor

High school art teacher Laura Wright visited the Drachen Foundation Study Center in late September to view art kites and gather material as inspiration for a project she planned to implement in her upper level sculpture class. When they were done with this project, she invited Drachen Staff into the classroom to see how she implemented art kites into her sculpture curriculum and to view the finished products.

A visual artist, Wright has been interested in kites for several years. A resident of Georgetown, Washington—right next to SEATAC airport where kites cannot be flown—she sees the kite as a form of protest as well as a piece of art and decided to introduce this concept to her students.

In the classroom, Wright first gave her students a primer on kites and art kites, showing photos of several sculptural pieces she had found at the DF study center and on the internet. She then set three limits to the construction of student kites: they had to be three-dimensional (sculptural), they had to be based on a concept, and the kite form had to reflect that concept. Says Wright, “As an early-in-the-year project, I wanted to integrate them into building something that’s conceptual, structured and strong.”

Wright, who also works with Youth In Focus, a non-profit organization teaching photography to local urban teens, has also shown interest in introducing KAP to photography students, wanting students to be able to express themselves through a different perspective and to document the changes in the area around Youth in Focus classrooms, as the area becomes more gentrified and experiences urban development. Wanting to further develop their KAP curriculum, DF plans to partner with Wright and Youth in Focus using KAP in the future.


DF Featured Archive Item

The giant kites of Guatemala, or barriletes gigantes, are in Sumpango a labor of the plight of the Indians. The tradition can be tracked to the end of the 1400s, when they made and flew their kites to honor their ancestors and rid the area of evil spirits on All Saints’ Day. They now create and fly their kites to show pride in their Mayan Indian heritage and send a quiet protest to the government that regulates and neglects Indian culture, as the government imposes barriers on Indian language, religious practice, and tradition.

Up to 40 feet across in diameter, these circular kites are made of hand cut pieces of colored tissue paper, arranged and glued to “construct” a story. Each kite is composed of thousands of tissue papers and gallons of white glue, costing around four hundred dollars to construct.

Villagers travel to the south coast of Guatemala to collect canes for spars; wire and rope hold the kites together. Groups of Sumpango residents collaborate to make each kite. The standard size 10 foot kite takes up to 15 people up to a month and a half to design, create, and assemble, depending on how complicated the design is.

The designs show the importance of Mayan traditional life—a mother braiding her daughter’s hair, people working their land, women in traditional clothing as colorful as the kites. The words communicate their troubles, one exclaiming “Respect our lives, it’s the basis of peace.” Others object even more to government atrocities.

The pieces photographed here are three of maybe 1,000 kites that have been completed in Sumpango over the last 65 years. Most of these kites are still stored in homes throughout the village. After viewing the kite tradition in Sumpango in 2003, the Drachen Foundation wanted to incorporate some of these kites into their collection for the purpose of exhibition to educate others about the tradition and plight of the Mayans. Though this village does not typically sell their kite artifacts, as they are considered village property, the foundation was honored with three of to incorporate into its collection.

After the kites reached DF offices, director Ali Fujino spent a number of hours devising a way to make these delicate treasures safe and capable of travel and display. A paper backing was applied to reinforce the kite sails for durability. In place of bamboo spars, wooden dowels held together at the mid-point with a screw and bolt for rotation, were used as a way to “break down” the sparring system for travel.

In the past four years, these kites have been exhibited in the halls of many area community libraries, schools and museums, many times in conjunction with a lecture and Guatemalan children’s kite making workshops. They are beginning to show wear, but the cultural awareness and appreciation for Mayan heritage that they supply far exceeds any desire to keep them pristine.

Endeavoring to maintain interest in these kites will ensure the continuance of the tradition of kite making in Guatemala, as Sumpango kite makers strive for awareness. As one Guatemalan kite make expressed, “it’s the only thing I can think of that permits me to revisit my Indian culture, combining my mind and my soul and my skills.”

As reporter Jerry Large of the Seattle Times expressed in his column, Mayan Kite Fliers Send Aloft a Message of Pride, “when kites fly in Sumpango, the people who make them soar, too.”


The Drachen Foundation Masters Grant

Tako Ryokan: A Week with Mikio Toki

In honor of both the tradition of Japanese kite making and the resurgence of kite making in a contemporary manner, the Drachen Foundation is proud to announce its first scholarship for a contemporary kite maker to study with a Japanese Master in his home.

The Master is Mikio Toki

Mikio Toki is one of the finest contemporary kite makers and painters in Japan and has showcased his talent in exhibitions and demonstrations throughout the world. The traditionally shaped Japanese kites of bamboo and washi provide the perfect frame for his distinct style of painting.

Having studied graphic design in school, Toki learned about Edo kites from traditional kite maker Katsuhisa Ota and has worked to keep the traditional Edo kite form alive. Establishing himself as a professional kite maker, Toki has honed skills useful for building a career with both Japanese and international admirers.

The Contemporary Artist is Greg Kono

A third generation Japanese American and native of Sacramento, California, Greg Kono graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Design in 1986. He has run his own design studio since 1991.

In his kite making, Kono explores the culture and materials—bamboo and washi—used by his ancestors. His playful imagery ranges from objects and memories from his youth growing up on a farm, reflecting vegetables, toys, fishing reels to a continuing interest in anime. He has designed a series of kite kits for the Drachen Foundation.

This exclusive award will be granted every two or three years and will match a traditional kite artist with a respected international contemporary kite artist. The Foundation will arrange to pay for travel and expense of the grantee to live with the traditional kite maker for 5 days. The winner will be the guest of the “master,” learning not only the traditional manner of making kites, but experiencing the culture of the country in which the instruction is being conducted. The individual will be expected to eat and live without special arrangements, in order to understand and appreciate more the master and his life.

In exchange for this grant, the grantee will file a report on their experience with photos, as well as gift one kite exemplifying the experience transferred to the Drachen Foundation collection, no less than one year after the week-long apprenticeship is completed.


Gloria Stuart

There isn't enough time to chronicle the brilliance of Gloria Stuart. She has and continues to pack more into her 96 years, illustrating that life is worth living fully.

Beginning as a serious actor in the 1930s, she was on contract to Universal Studios, and as a contractor, was given roles as the mother of Shirley Temple in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and the lead against Claude Raines in the (original) Invisible Man. I remember her with Peter O'Toole in the classic, "My Favorite Year," but the world remembers her as "the mature Rose," the Academy Award nominee for best supporting actress in the Titanic. The list goes on.

What few people know about Gloria Stuart is that she is an accomplished fine artist who became interested in kites in 1939, while traveling with her husband through Thailand. This love affair with kites has come forth in many of her art medias: painting, silk screening, and her fine engraved art books.

As I write this, Gloria is finishing one of her finest works-a limited edition hand bound art book, "homage to kites." This art piece has already been purchased by The Getty Museum, the Library of Congress, and the Drachen Foundation. Drachen plans to take their editions and frame each page to tour in an exhibition. These pages will be on exhibition for the first time at the Japanese American Cultural Community Center in Los Angeles California. 

The show will open on January 1st 2007 and close on January 21st 2007.

Don't miss it, and if you are in Los Angeles on Sunday, January 14th, come by to meet Gloria at a party in her honor from 7-10 pm. 

Ali Fujino