Authors: Ben Ruhe
Date Submitted: May 31, 2006
Article Type: Journal

David Kahn is was one of those natural born collectors, the type who takes to collecting early and never changes his ways. Kahn had his major insight as a nine year old when he discovered a gift shop selling Japanese folk toys, including kites. A New Yorker, the aesthetics of the Orient captivated him. Kahn bought not only a Japanese kite but also a mask and other items. He was on his way.

Child of an advertising executive who collected widely and set him an example, Kahn took two Ivy League degrees in Renaissance and Baroque painting and 19th century American architecture and after a training period with the National Park Service in New York assumed the executive directorship of the Brooklyn Historical Society, then for nine years served as executive director of the Connecticut Historical Society Museum in Hartford. In May of this year, Kahn moved to New Orleans to become director of the Louisiana State Museum System. The system embraces five historic public facilities in the Latin Quarter of New Orleans, barely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, a modern new facility in Baton Rouge, and several small sites elsewhere in the state. With annual budget of $7 million and 100 employees, the system draws 325,000 visitors annually. Collections span the entire history of Louisiana and include fine holdings of Mardi Gras costumes.

Kahn made his first trip to Japan in l986 and was deeply impressed with what he saw. His profound commitment to Japanese kites and other objects began then. Using a self-styled “vacuum cleaner” approach, Kahn took to scouring Japanese shops and to visiting major craftsmen in their workshops. He recalls his first purchase as an adult—-a Tomoe kite from Shizuoka, near Toyko. It can be described as having three-part design. At the top is the Tomoe symbol composed of three whirling commas, at the center are two ‘eye-tie’ textile designs, and at the bottom is a folding fan incorporating a circular sun and cloud pattern.

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