Sunday, June 7, 2009


We packed our kites and jumped on the plane headed to the island of Sicily for a taste of Italy and to test the winds along the blue shores of San Vito on the North West tip of the island that is being kicked by the boot of Italy. The festival was the first for this area that promised a clean onshore wind, sunny and warm Mediterranean weather, great food, Sicilian hospitality and a group of some of our favorite kite making friends from around the world. What could be better?

Kite flyers were gathered for the event by kite artist and festival organizer, Claudio Cappeli and his daughter Caterina. Included were flyers from France, Germany, Austria, Italy, England, Denmark, the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ghana, Mexico and the U.S. Maria Gabriella and Ignacio Billera of Trapani Eventi organized the event details and hospitality in San Vito lo Capo.

We were greeted by a near perfect kite flying day for the first weekend of the ten day festival as everyone put everything into the sky to fill the beach with our kites. Some took to the cool waist deep waters holding their lines to the kite show overhead and commenting, “It doesn’t get much better than this”.

While some of the other days offered less than perfect winds, each day offered an array of activities including trips to small groups of kite flyers out to communities around San Vito for kite flying demonstrations and sight seeing forays. We were taken to nearby the seaside town of Trapani visiting the historic salt fields with old wind mill towers that used to pump the sea water into the evaporative salt beds. We then drove to an old stone hill village of Salemi in an area that was destroyed by a powerful earthquake in 1968. Salemi suffered from major damage and was reconstructed. We flew kites at the hill top church and from the fortress castle towers.

We then traveled to the nearby village of Gibelllini. This rural town was at the epicenter of the earthquake and was totally destroyed. Three thousand people perished in the quake while sleeping in their stone houses. The entire town was leveled in the disaster. As a memorial to the victims Italian artist Alberto Burri was commissioned to create a monument of concrete at the site of the town. The result is a haunting maze of concrete covering the hillside. We flew for the spirits entombed there. We visited the new village of Gibellini Nouva that was built seven kilometers from the original town. All the surviving families were moved to this new villiage. Italian architects and artists designed the new town filled with memorials to the victims and families lost in the disaster. The new town modern apartments and condos obviously lacked the Sicilian flavor and the tight and narrow street corridors bustling with the sounds of families.

Returning to the kite festival, each day we were treated to lunches in different local restaurants, tasting the pleasures of Sicilian food. Cous Cous dishes are a specialty in Sicily and reflect the close interaction with North African cuisines. Along with the summer kite festival, there’s also an international cous cous festival in San Vito with the streets filled with tent kitchens serving a staggering variety of the dish.

While some would say that flying kites for ten days on the Mediterranean while being fed delicious lunches, dinners and gelato is probably close to being the perfect job description. Another side of the job is carrying two hundred pounds of kites back and forth to the flying field each day, setting up the display of banners and kites, keeping things flying, dealing with shifting winds, kite crashes into the sea, avoiding dehydration, sunburn and sunstroke, chasing down kites that get cut down, climbing trees or darting between the traffic to recover them. Then again, it was still pretty fun.

The last weekend of flying brought a near perfect night fly and a day of clean enough winds to set a world record for shoulder to shoulder single line kite flying. I think there were about twelve of us in a tight lineup with kites aloft.

When all the kites were packed up on Sunday and the kite flyers gathered for a last meal in the dinner tent the wind picked up and started a sandstorm across the beach. Moments later sheets of rain and severe wind buffeted the tents. Leaving the next morning we learned that the freak storm had lifted the kite storage tent and the dinner tent during the night from the concrete stakes and totally destroyed both. Lucky no one was inside.

Flying back home brought some added adventure and a few scary moments. There was a flight delay in Rome because of the rain storm. That made a tight connection for us in Philadelphia. I was coming down with something the last few days and not feeling that well as we ran through the airport to get through customs and to our transfer connection gate. On the flight to Denver I passed out briefly and the flight attendant brought me oxygen. Then while driving home from the Denver airport I had an excruciating pain in my back and had to go to the emergency for what turned out to be a kidney stone. The last few days have been spent recovering in bed and the back yard lawn lounge remembering the lovely time on the beach at San Vito, Sicily.

An array of George's kites flying with Melanie's High Fashion Dress kite and House Head kite

Pierre Fabre flying his Space Dummy at Gibellina

Michel Bougard from Nantes France perparing his mobile kite

A kite shop on the street in San Vito

Mikio Toki and Makoto Ohye working on the Japanese sand garden

Painted face kites by Robert Trapanier of Montreal

A large spinning 'bol' by Edwardo Borghetti of Italy

George's Bird Man kite at the end of the day

For more photos of the San Vito lo Capo International Kite Festival go to the slide show.

Monday, May 18, 2009


There is a deep history and connection to kites and kite celebrations in Japan that inspires a great admiration in me. It was years ago in the mid seventies that these artful and wondrous flying objects introduced me to the world of kites in a big way. I tried my hand at splitting bamboo while living in Hawaii, gathered from the bamboo forests high over the city of Honolulu, carefully splitting them, shaving them to even the spar bend and balancing the bamboo to the requirements of the kite “bones”. My first copies of the Japanese kite would often end in many broken bones and, eventually, a switch to crash proof fiberglass rod. It was a dream of mine back then to travel to Japan to learn from the masters.

This year was probably my fifth trip to Japan. I was invited by my friend, Masaaki Modegi, the president of the Japan Kite Association for a second tour of the kite festivals in Aomori, Uchinada and Hamamatsu. I arrived in Japan with traveling companions, Jon and Karen Burkhardt, kite makers from the Washington DC area and Clyde Cook, from New Zealand who brought a group of Peter Lynn’s kites with him. Melanie was unfortunately enmeshed in her student’s finals at the University of Colorado art department and couldn’t join me.

On our first night in Japan we were treated to a welcome dinner at Mr. Modegi’s Taimeiken Restaurant. Well known in Tokyo and the Nihonbashi neighborhood as the best European cuisine restaurant in all of Japan. Started by Mr. Modegi’s father in pre-war Tokyo, Modegi-san has taken both his father’s love of cooking and his passion for Japanese and world kites. His father created a kite museum in the upstairs floor of the restaurant and features his collection of traditional kites from all over Japan as well as examples from the world. The collection packs glass cases, hangs from the walls and ceiling with barely a space left for this astounding collection of the art and craft of kites.

The next early morning I took Jon and Karen on a tour of the Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market. This place is a must see for all who visit Japan. The market is the central hub for all the fish that are brought in and transported to markets and restaurants across Japan and the world. There is a dizzying array of plastic cartons of fresh fish, eel, octopus, big and small fish and some that I have never seen in my life. An early morning auction house is filled with bidders for huge frozen carcasses of tuna that go for $4,000US and up each. The market is a chaotic yet highly organized scene of small transport carts motoring down narrow market corridors and a bustle of buyers and sellers for the lucrative fish trade. The amount of fish coming in every day to the Tsukiji Fish Market is mind boggling. It always amazes me when I visit the market that there is anything left in the oceans.

We flew later that day to the city of Aomori in the north tip of the main island of Japan. It is close to the north island of Hokkaido across the isthmus. We stayed at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Sato and were hosted royally with fabulous meals and comfortable quarters there at the Sato house. Mr. Sato has a dental practice in the front of the large rambling house while Mrs. Sato has a kite making studio upstairs. I have known Mrs. Sato for many years and have enjoyed her sweet Japanese demeanor, her cute laugh and her kite making skills. She has also had a career as an internationally famed Japanese opera singer.

We spent most of the next few days there visiting three local elementary schools where we were entertained by the school children before doing kite workshops with them and flying demonstrations in the playgrounds. A kite festival was held in the Fujisaki township on a river bed park with groups of children performing opening ceremony band performances and Taiko drumming groups.

A welcome party was held at the local community center with local members of the kiting community. We were told that we would enjoy a “cultural experience” there. Jon, Karen, Clyde and I were ushered into a tatami matted room and were each dressed in traditional Japanese wear by a group of women. Karen took the longest to outfit with a meticulous and colorful dress kimono and emerged transformed. We were then ushered into another tatami mat and shoji screen tea room and given the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, a meditative and graceful preparation of green tea in a spare and slow motion presentation of the sublime gift of a warm cup of tea in an exquisitely simple ceramic cup.

It was also prime cherry blossom time up in this northern township and a tour was given of the Hirosaki Koen Park grounds in central Fujisaki. This is an enormous park complex featuring the historic Hirosaki castle tower and moat system throughout the grounds and surrounded by the most spectacular display of cherry blossoms I have ever witnessed. It was like a spring snowfall in flower petals. People were strolling among the tree lined pathways, across arched red bridges crossing the moats, young blossom revelers spread blue plastic tarps across the open areas enjoying their friendships and partying into the night when the trees are lit up in a colorful splendor. It was a magical and beautiful sight.

After we said our “arigatos” and “sayonara” to Mr. and Mrs. Sato we flew to Kanazawa on the central western coast of Japan. The Japan Kite Association annual convention and kite festival is held in the nearby seaside town of Uchinada. The gathering of kite clubs from all over Japan featured a welcome party in the town hall with a sumptuous feast of Japanese food, sushi and free flowing beer and saki. A woman’s taiko drumming group pounded on stage, mayors spoke, Modegi-san gave a rousing speech. All the food was gulped up in minutes.

The next day we were taken to the beachside kite festival field where tents were put up for the kite teams and groups of children arrived for the special children’s kite flying day. Large traditional Japanese kites were lofted into the air. We had been told to fly our kites well away from the other kites but wherever we went it seemed we were smack in the middle of their upwind running paths. Long lines of kids ran in the much too light winds towing the ropes to the giant kites at the other end of the beach. They ran, laughed and collapsed as the kite then gently floated back to the sand.

We flew our kites again the following day when teams from all over Japan flew their large kites. There was a group of paraglider “Peel” kite flyers with motorized back pack fans traversing the beach all day and avoiding the lines of the kites. A large red sailed ship kite was an unusual addition to the Japanese traditional kites on display along the beach. An attempt to fly the ship was made but the wind was too light for this very heavy structural kite.

Our next stop on the tour was south-east to the Pacific shore of Japan. We traveled to bullet train…which is true to it’s name. Waiting at the train station platform as the trains pass through is like a horizontal rocket launching pad. The trains whooshed through in a blazing white and blue striped line and had me trying to anticipate the impossible digital camera capture.

Hamamatsu is known for it’s centuries old traditional Japanese kite festival during the Golden Week and Children’s Day festivities of early May. The festival dates back four hundred years and features some of the most elegant and beautifully crafted large kites in all of Japan. They are like flying ‘shoji’ screens masterfully crafted from bamboo and Japanese paper. Each prefecture or township in Hamamatsu sends teams of kite flyers to the festival. Kites are sponsored by citizens who have a new born son or grandson during the previous year. The sponsoring family name is put on the corner of the kite from the prefecture. If the kite does well during the afternoon of kite battles, the boy will also do well in life. And if the kite is taken down in the chaotic tangle of ropes and tugging teams…well, too bad.

Thousands participate in this seasoned kite battle dressed in traditional kite flying garb, hapi coat emblazoned with the team emblem, wrap around trousers, two toed snap on shoes, head band and team color gloves. Support groups of banner teams parade around the field with groups of horn players belting out a tune that starts to engrain itself on the brain. Parties go on into the nights as well with parades and pagoda-like wheeled carts festooned with lights and seated children clanging cymbals inside. It is a wild scene. Even my second time there brings me to a sensory overload of this culture’s facility for celebration and community spirit.

We were given a tour of the Hamamatsu Kite Museum as well that features the history of the festival and a grand display hall of an array of prefecture kites with traditional red, white and blue graphic emblems and designs. The displays show sounds and sights of the festival and video screens showing the lively action on the field of the kite battles.

The day ended earlier than we wanted as an overcast day started to drizzle and rain on the kite teams. Some of the kites were pulled in with soaked paper hanging from the frames. We darted between the team tents with saki parties going on inside. A moment later we were on the bullet train again for the hour and a half zip back to Tokyo and to our homeward flights.

As always, my visit to Japan has me wanting more. The flavor of the country is one of graciousness, color, courtesy and artful celebrationism. I never realized that my small foray into the world of Japanese kites many years ago would introduce me to so many friends, such a rich culture, giving me a deep appreciation and love for this country. “Domo Arigato Gozaimas”…thank you!...for my passion for making kites and a life in the wind.

Hamamatsu kite team flyers

Mrs. Sato at her home tea ceremony room

kids making sled kites at a Fujisaki elementary school

I gloried in total immersion into cherry blossom time!

the 'Peel' parafoil fan team

an inflatable crab by Peter Lynn flown in Uchinada

two new 'Flying Man' kites I made for the Japan kite festivals

For more pictures and descriptions of the kite trip to Japan go to the slide show.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


We installed a show of Melanie's installation work at the Access Gallery in downtown Denver's Santa Fe Art District. The work is a combination of bird mobiles, house shaped screens stretched and suspended in the space, two light sources to create a moving shadow show of flying birds onto the surfaces of the screens and an early 80's sound track that Melanie created using "peeper" frog recordings along with old 78 hand cranked turntable scratch recordings played backwards.

The installation uses sewn panels of fiberglass window screen with appliqued bird images and painted picket fences enclosing the two spaces on each side of the gallery. Small fans are placed to move the bird mobiles creating fluctuating shadows across the ceiling, walls and screens of the installation. The effect is like a bird avery let loose from the confines of an urban scene.

Melanie's statement about the show:

I am interested in constructing spaces that conjure up memory and non specific narratives. My interest in installation art derives from a desire to create an all encompassing environment that surrounds the viewer and allows them to experience stories drawing from their own personal narratives. Empty Spaces alludes to shadow plays, illusion, puppetry and memory.

I remember reading somewhere that the crow is considered to be the ‘one-eyed seer’. The Crow looks at the world with first one eye, then the other - cross-eyed. In the Mayan culture, cross-eyeds had the privilege and duty of looking into the future. In a certain way because of my cross eyed, one eyed vision, I have long identified with the crow. It is a black bird and my name means the ‘dark one’. It sees with one eye or cross eyed as I do. I have always felt that the role of the artist is to see into the future in a new way that helps to bring about a paradigm shift. I have strived to see through my disability and have used my altered vision to change my own perception of the world through my work.

With this exhibition I want to thank Access Gallery for giving me the chance to do this installation. I also want to give special thanks to my partner George Peters for all his help, support and our constant dialog about ideas and how to express them visually.

Melanie Walker

The show "Empty Spaces" will be up until April 10th, 2009

The Access Gallery is located at 909 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, Colorado

These images and more can be viewed on the slide show

Sunday, March 1, 2009


We just put up a new window installation at the neighborhood Blink Gallery here in Boulder. The show features some older works but put in a more concentrated form. It includes works from an installation done for a photo show at the Houston Center for Photography during the national FotoFest.Biennial in Houston.

'Camereye Voyageur' features large photographic screens, two 'Camereye' nine foot high puppets that are manipulated by remote strings and five tripod 'peep' camera viewing boxes. Each of the cameras feature a tableau made three dimensional through layering of transparent photo images within the bellows of the light collecting cameras. The puppets are camera headed stick figures with moving arms and legs with lights in the lens and heads that give them a glow at night.

This is the third window installation we've done in the Blink Gallery window. The gallery is sadly closing because of changes in the economy but will continue in it's corporate and private art consultation business in the upstairs offices. The logo of Blink Gallery is two wide open eyes. We thought these puppets would be a perfect match for the last harrah show.

Our statement about the show:

The camera’s lens has radically affected our vision of the world. It flattens dimension, changes the real to the super real, captures time and focuses equally on the micro and macro by extending our eye. We have sent cameras instead of ourselves to orbit distant planets to take pictures of the surfaces, dive into atmospheres and wander the dusty landscapes searching for evidence of clues to our own existence here on this water and rock globe. Like puppets on long strings of radio waves we control their movements and click their shutters. The images are then sent back along the radio strings to be assembled, interpreted and analyzed. The photos tell a deep story.

The images of distant worlds show us they obey the laws of light and dark with images of rocks and ice, dust and gas. Our remote vision through the lens of space telescopes shows us how incredible this space over our heads really is.

“Who would believe that so small a space could contain an image of the entire universe?”

Leonardo di Vinci
On the camera obscura

The tableau views inside the cameras




Glass-Earth-Humming Bird


Pulling the strings causes the passers-by on the sidewalk to stop and look at the camera-headed puppets dancing in the window. The overheard comments are either "Wierd!" or "Cool!".

Blink Gallery is located at 1011 Pearl Street in Boulder.

The show will continue through to the end of March when the gallery will be closing.