25 Years of the Drachen Foundation

Scott Skinner 1988
Scott Skinner holds a bamboo kite frame in China, 1988

25 Years of the Drachen Foundation
By Scott Skinner

Let’s drag out every cliché – “how time flies;” “it’s not work if you’re doing what you love to do;” “go fly a kite!” – all relative to my last twenty-five years with the Drachen Foundation. Looking back, it was a stroke of luck that I had met Ali Fujino on David Checkley’s last trip to China in 1988. She and Ben Ruhe, who would also become instrumental in the Foundation’s history, collaborated on the first “stunt kite” book and I naively approached them as I thought about my own coffee-table kite book. Thankfully, they talked me out of that, but Ali and I started brainstorming and then collaborated on the 1991 Kite Pin Invitational, a project that produced cloisonné pins for a variety of kite artists and also produced exhibit panels introducing the artists and their kites to the kite world and public. What we learned from the Invitational is that people devoured every word that we published and the information was the star, not the pins!

That made us think about what role we could play in the kite world and the answer was to be a clearinghouse of information – an educational non-profit that used kites to teach culture, art, science, and history. The Drachen Foundation was born. Before continuing, it’s time to thank the two people who made this journey possible. The first has been mentioned already and is obvious to anyone who knows the Foundation. Ali Fujino has been the engine making the Drachen Foundation run. She is the business expert, the museum expert, and the “let’s make this work” expert. A wonderful spirit with a head for details, Ali has helped me turn bad ideas into good ones, and ensure projects reach completion, no matter the odds. The second person is Sheridan Skinner, my wife. She has allowed me to follow my passion, to work to make the Foundation a viable entity in the kite world and beyond, and to run away to kite events worldwide. Thank you, both.

Scott Skinner & Ali Fujino
Scott Skinner and Ali Fujino speak at Seattle's Town Hall about the giant kites of Guatemala

As we formed the Foundation, we never wanted to be a museum, with all the infrastructure – both physical and otherwise – so, instead we concentrated on being a clearinghouse of kite information. We worked to establish an archive of English-language kite information and then tried to develop creative ways to disseminate kite information to enthusiasts and the public, alike. Our commitment to establishing a world-class archive was tested early when the Samuel Franklin Cody Collection was auctioned to the public. We felt that keeping a majority of this material in one place was important and stepped up to purchase a majority of the kite information. This really put our archive on the map. In expressing our commitment to the international kite community, we took original Cody kites and materials to the Dieppe International Kite Festival in 1994 and began a two-decades-long relationship with historical kite enthusiasts that continues, informally, today. These relationships led to over a decade of Historical Kite weekends in Holland, Germany, and Switzerland.

In those early years, we also established close working relationships with the Japan Kite Association and Masaaki Modegi. Our first major exhibition was at Seattle’s Museum of Flight and featured Japanese kites that had never left Japan before, including original kites by Toranosuke Watanabe and Teizo Hashimoto. Working relationships with Mikio Toki and Nobuhiko Yoshizumi became long-term friendships that spread Japanese kite-making skills to enthusiasts in the USA and Europe. Toki-san and Yoshizumi-san helped us shift our outreach emphasis (especially in kite workshops) to groups other that kite fliers - paper artists, printers, art teachers, and others. Seattle’s Paper Kite Invitational brought European, North American, and Japanese kite makers together to explore creative kite making with traditional materials. Early in our history, Ali spearheaded the writing and publishing of Kites, Paper Wings over Japan, authored jointly by Masaaki Modegi, Tsutomu Hiroi, and me. This modest book has remained popular as a first-resource to de-mystify Japanese kites and to bring the beauty and joy of Japanese kites to enthusiasts and the public.

Looking back, I find it hard to believe how the original discussions about a website that could be dynamic and useful to the worldwide kite community turned out! Our Board of Directors – which over the years included Martin Lester, Bonnie and Ed Wright, Stuart Allen, Joe Hadzicki, Dr. Wayne Wilson, Dave Lang, Jose Sainz and Keith Yoshida always worked toward this original vision. It was Dr. Wilson, who was the head of Los Angeles’ Amateur Athletic Museum who provided the initial guidance to aim for a state-of-the-art archive and website. Matt Sutton was instrumental in the nuts and bolts of website design and upkeep. As we continue past 25 years, the website will be the lasting legacy of the Drachen Foundation.

Drachen Foundation Board of Directors
The Drachen Foundation Board of Directors

Generally, our first ten years were focused on the worldwide kite community; Historical Kite gatherings, workshops at Kite Retreats and the AKA Convention, and collaborations with the Japanese Kite Association were all designed for the kite enthusiast more than the general public. In the last 15 years, our focus changed drastically toward the interests of teachers, artists, and the general public – those not already familiar with the benefits of kite-joy. Ben Ruhe, our in-house writer and kite-story-sleuth contributed mightily in these years with his editing of the Drachen Journal and then Discourse: at the end of the Line. Both of these publications brought interesting and sometimes obscure stories of interest to kite fanatics and the public, alike. Ben’s genuine curiosity led to in depth looks at kite artists, historical kite facts and figures, and legendary kite-sites.

John Stevenson’s Japanese Kite Prints is a tour de force of ukiyo-e history, kite imagery, and the enduring beauty of Japanese kites. Another major Foundation undertaking, this book has carried Japanese kites to the art world and kite world on a unique platform that is of interest to a wide ranging audience. As we progressed into the second decade of the 21st century, our Board started to consider the possibility of winding down our active kite programs and concentrating on a plan that would enable us to keep the website active well into the future. Throughout our corporate life, we gathered kites, some for exhibition, some as gifts, and some for conservation. We found that we had a collection of over 5000 kites! Our mandate was always to archive, so logging photos and information continued to be a high priority. As we completed this archival effort, it was clear to us that we should sell the Foundation collection and use the proceeds to maintain the website for our continuing online presence. Logic told us that we had a paper kite collection, a paper archive, and a contemporary kite collection (mainly ripstop and fiberglass examples from the 1990s) and that the three of them would be of interest to different museums or institutions. After two years of effort, with no success of moving any of the collections, a source came forward and was interested in everything! This was a Korean kite museum, The Wind Center Kite Museum of Korea, and it presented The Foundation with an amazing opportunity. We could keep our entire collection intact and put it in a place that the worldwide kite community and the public might see it all. As it has turned out, the Museum has run into problems and has been very close-lipped about their lack of progress. Our regrets that the project has not been completed are tempered by the realization that, at least, the collection is safe, intact, and still in one large piece. It is our profound hope that the project rises from the ashes and becomes what we thought it might be when we transferred the collection, the world’s pre-eminent kite museum.

Scott Skinner at Jeju Island
Scott Skinner visits Jeju Island, the future site of the Kite Museum of Korea

Future Kite Museum of Korea
Artist rendering of the future Kite Museum of Korea

In uploading your own kite history to our online collection on the Drachen Foundation website, you will continue the documentation of kites and create your own kite legacy for generations to come.

Join us by creating your kite legacy here.

 

25th Anniversary Celebrations

Ambassadors

We’re excited to announce our 25th anniversary ambassadors: Kathy Goodwind, Jose Sainz, Joe Hadzicki, Scott Skinner, and Masaaki Modegi! Find them at special events throughout 2018 and score a DF anniversary sticker!

Limited Edition Prizes 

  • Series of artist-designed anniversary stickers
  • International artist pin collection now available for sale on Etsy
  • Collaboration with Revolution Kites coming later this year

Special Events

  • March 6-9: Jose Sainz at the Qatar International Kite Festival (Doha, Qatar)
  • April 14: DF at the Otis Kite Festival (Santa Monica, CA)
  • April 20-May 1: Jose Sainz and Kathy Goodwind at the Cervia Kite Festival (Cervia, Italy)
  • May 25-28: Jose Sainz at Wildwoods International Kite Festival (Wildwood, NJ)
  • May 28-June 3: Scott Skinner at the Romania Kite Festival
  • June 14-17: Scott Skinner at the Fanø Kite Festival (Fanø, Denmark)
  • June 23-24: Kathy Goodwind and Jose Sainz at the SaskPower Windscape Kite Festival (Swift Current, Canada)
  • July 14: Ali, Scott, Jose, Joe Hadzicki, and Greg Kono at Big Chickie kitemaking event (Seattle, WA)
  • October 15-20: Scott Skinner and Jose Sainz at the AKA Convention (Shreveport, LA)
  • October 25-27: Scott Skinner and Ali Fujino at Friends of Dard Hunter Conference (Iowa City, IA)

Contests

  • In honor of Tom Van Sant, DF gave $300 in Hiromi Paper certificates to the three most creative kites at the Otis Kite Festival.
  • By May 15th, design a kite pin in honor of Drachen's 25th birthday and our kite-pin-collecting friend Jack Judd. Contest details on Facebook!
  • Keep your eyes peeled for more fun to come!