Sunday, August 11, 2013

Go Fly A Kite

I have never thought much about kites, maybe because my few attempts were total failures.  I guess you have to understand wind shifts and how fast you have to run in which direction to get the darn thing to take off.  I also didn’t think about the design of the kites because ones that I saw had no memorable designs.  A while ago we met a gentleman who has totally immersed himself in the world of kites, well not exactly the world but rather traditional Japanese kites in particular.

David M. Kahn is currently Executive Director of the Adirondack Museum and has also been director at several other history museums across the country.   He has lent much of his Japanese kite collection to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe.  The show is called “Tako Kichi”, kite crazy in Japanese.  Felicia Katz-Harris, curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Collections put the exhibition together.

Mr. Kahn told us that when he was 9 his parents took him to a place in Westchester, which was designed in the Japanese style and the gift shop was selling a great deal of Japanese material.  This is where he bought his first kite.  Later his family moved to Long Island and not far from his home was a shop run by a Japanese mother and her daughter called Kyoto Shop so he was able to indulge his new found passion.  As he got older and could afford to buy kites on his own he started to learn more about and collect kites seriously.  Today the collection amounts to some 700 pieces and about 300 of his kites, books on kites and wood blocks for kite prints are exhibited here. The museum has set up a table for families to work on building their own kites with instructions and guidelines.  Then they can go outside to the plaza in front of the museum and see if they will fly.

There were lots of other interesting stories and insights in the lecture Dr. Kahn gave at the exhibition opening?  The one that I have always known both as a collector and art dealer.  “Collecting is a pathology!”   For me a collector is not just someone who buys a lot of stuff but rather someone who is passionate and willing to travel in search of his/her quest and not lose interest in what they seek just because it is not immediately available. 

In Japan there is a kite association and even a kite museum.  I know of no kite museum in the U.S.  Mr. Kahn spoke of attending a meeting of the kite association in Japan and all were drinking wine and being very western and he, being traditional, asked for saki which they had to especially find for him.

He believes that traditional kite making is an art form that is dying out.  He told us that the professional kite makers of the late 19th and early 20th century have not been replaced by later generations.  He feels that many of the kite makers today are just hobbyists.  This is a totally new subject for me, so I am far from an expert, but I can say from other art fields that have been said to be dying out (such as Hopi textiles) they stay just below the surface and then they come to life again.  In the recent folk art market here there was a Japanese kite maker exhibiting his kites and I believe it was his profession but the subject matter was indeed pushing the envelope of tradition.

There are kite festivals all over Japan but one in particular in the small village of  Shirone is a 300 year old tradition and they show a short film on it in the exhibition.  The kites for this festival are usually 22 feet high.  Japanese kites can be as large as 4,000 square feet with a height of 67 feet and weigh up to 3,000 pounds.  As you can imagine this takes a large team to handle.  Also, normal kite string is not going to do much good, but if you braid the string you can get it strong enough to handle great weight.  Some kite teams have ways of braiding the string which they keep as trade secrets.  The object is to get your kite flying and then attack the rival teams kite and tangle your kite string with the kite string of the other kite.  The next step is a tug of war and whoever’s string breaks first is the loser.  Needless to day, the process usually ruins both kites and they go back to make new ones for next year’s competition.  There are no 22 foot kites in the exhibition but there are some pretty large ones of 12 feet plus. In contrast there are also a couple which are less than 2 inches tall!

There was a kite in the show called “7 Lucky Gods” but there were only 6 gods on the kite. When Dr. Kahn asked the maker about this he was told, “The 7th god is you”.  I am sure you need to know a lot about Japanese culture to fully understand this but for me it seems a very satisfying concept.

Now for a shameless plug:  Should you find yourself in Santa Fe and be a fan of Japanese sushi as I am there is a superb small sushi bar here.  Now there are many sushi bars in Santa Fe but only one that is as good and the sushi as creatively done as any I have ever had.  It is called Sushi Land East, on Water Street.  The owner and senior chef is Masa from Kyoto who also worked in San Francisco.  His sous chef, Victor, is excellent as well.

1 comment:


    ... and thanks very much for this post about kites at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe!