Upper Midwest Area Kitemaking event 2013
I’d been looking forward to the Upper Midwest Area Kitemaking Event (or U-Make) for months, as it was my very first “real” kite event with kite- makers that I’d looked up to, from afar, over the last year. By “real” I intend to signify a sense of thorough interest in kitemaking, evidenced by commitment. In my everyday world, making kites is most often perceived as “niche” and “charm- ing.” In the kite world, their symbolism is exon- erated and personified. U-Make marked my first experience as part of an assembly of kitemakers who live with kites as an extension of the self. Their kites offer a new perspective, a tool for liv- ing in the moment, a way of life.
Along the drive to the retreat, the distance be- tween cars and buildings grew, and open land and sky sprawled be- fore me, making way for the weekend. The road led toward the forest, where kitemak- ers meet, where eagles and hawks fly, and cell phones cease to func- tion. Northern Uni- versity’s Taft Lorado campus became “Kite- makers Point” for the weekend. On the first night, organizer Linda Larkey invited me to speak about the Kite Collective’s Kite Ma- chine Project. “You’re just talking to a group of friends you haven’t met yet,” she said, soothing my nerves. As planned, I spoke about our efforts to reconnect to the environment, commu- nity, and the self through kites. I shared our first year’s experience at Rockaway and a video on the kitemaking process for our miniature Bermu- das. Waves of support washed through the rest of the weekend, taking many forms. Bill Lamm, an “all around stand up guy,” shared with me, “Some of my favorite projects are ones that give new life to old things.” Creation, facilitation and value in process, and transformation seemed to me to be shared values among the attendees. With every vote of confidence, I felt some sort of rootedness take hold. The genuineness and kindness of this group were as palpable as the rolling wit. They held nothing back! Denise Lamm, artist and ed- ucator, resonated immediately with her distaste for the sewing machine, which she avoids. “There Whitney Richardson pays close attention in Donna Houchins’ miniature kite making class.
Steve Nicol are things our bodies are naturally drawn to,” she shared later, and alternately, are repulsed by.
After speaking, I stuck around to make minia- ture kites with Barbara Meyers for the American Kitefliers Association (AKA), using paper & tinsel. The kites are given to kids in the hospital. Another common practice of kiters seems to be spreading joy and hope. I got to watch Denise make her first kite that night. The evidence of effort to create a brighter world was everywhere, flying in front of me from a kite wand. A common lens was dis- covered. We know the benefits of looking up…
Saturday morning rolled around bringing with it Donna Houchin’s Miniature class, aka “principles of controlling the bleeding.” The bulk of time was mainly focused on playing with art techniques for combining the use of certain materials, in this case, sharpies and thin tissue. In encounters like this, you begin to feel the legacy of the kite community. For example, the idea to use paint bristles for the miniature kite spines came from master miniature builder Charlie Sotich, a force that many in the room have learned from. It was fun to see what colors each student chose to ex-
Flying a miniature Donna Houchins kite.
press themselves in their first kite of the day and watch them all run together as they flew through the room.
Barbara Meyer’s Cloudseeker class followed. The design was chosen as it is forgiving of mild, common construction flaws (thankfully). As we hemmed, my poor machine “hawed.” Big thanks to my neighbor, Jim Overmann, who kept help- ing-helping-helping me with my machine while still somehow managing to make progress with
his own kite. While my Cloudseeker is still a work in prog- ress, I wouldn’t have been able to finish hemming without the saving grace of ev- eryone in the room. As the Cloudseeker hours passed, JP Honeywell, kite pho- tographer, echoed one of my favorite sentiments, “You don’t have to be- lieve every thought that comes into your head.” Hums of Pink Floyd puttered in the background as my machine softly rode off course again. Perhaps his thought spared me from tossing my machine into the river.
Barbara Meyers in Donna Houchins’ miniature class.
Ron Lindner and his finished Cloudseeker kite. Barb Meyer
Ron Lindner, who has been making kites for over 28 years, shared with me his best kitemaking tip… “patience.” Maintaining calm in adversity felt natural in this environment and allowed room for a lot of story sharing. Throughout the week- end came stories of love, family, heartache, and mending. I asked Ron to regale me with a kite story. His response: “To ask for one story is im- possible because kiteflying has taken us all over the country. We have also met people from all over the world! Each and every one has a story… ours is a continuing story that we will add to for years to come.” We are all people living our lives and sharing them with one another.
For the first 24 hours of the event, ribbons of raffle tickets floated to and fro. This was another tradi- tion to bring us all together. I thoughtfully placed my raffle tickets into bags next to the treasures I hoped to win. “I would like one of everything please,” I thought, gently imagining my future life full of new kite books and fighter kites and enormous rokkuku’s. Ken Wilkowski noticed, “You sure look excited to be here!” I’d been found out. I resumed spin-spin-spinning around the room contemplating and swooning and placing raffle tickets, surrounded by most everyone else doing the same.
After the raffle was said and done, I walked away with my very first fighter kite, a Szilagi fighter, and my most sought after item. It must have felt how much I wanted it and made a deal with the raffle gods to make me its master. Ken led me to “the woman in blue,” Pam Hodges, to learn how to fly it, and I made a wonderful new friend. On flying the fighter, Pam said, “When it looks like it’s com- ing down, let go.” This advice sounded familiar and equally valuable to life outside of kites… kite wisdom.
Starting on Saturday morning, Simon Craft’s Ga- ruda class had workshop-goers sewing “round the clock” into the wee hours of the morning. With over 36 pieces to assemble, it was a real pleasure watching all the participants in pursuit of their finished kites. After solid legwork, more than a handful completed their Garuda kites by weekend’s end, allowing us to marvel in their craftsmanship. Oh, the planning to look forward to on the road to kitemaking mastery. One day I might have the skills (walk before you run) and the patience to tackle a project of such magni- tude, and being in close proximity to minds able to resign themselves to a weekend project of this magnitude, helped oil the wheels of possibility.
Simon Craft’s Garuda Class.
Come Sunday morning, it was time to make Viet- namese fighter kites with Charm Lindner…and charm is something she is full of. We sweetly folded and pressed our tissue and summoned our windpipes to steam and bend the wooden bows into submission. In true Whitney fashion, I en- countered some bumps in the road and snapped my first and second bow like a wishbone (I made a wish for my third bow to be my last). After the song and dance, another kite was complete, and I had assembled my first fighter kite! Albeit a little kooky and crooked in appearance, it somehow came out quite balanced and took to the wind like the little engine that could.
Linda Larkey’s “4 Foot Banner” workshop, intend- ed for beginning “appliqué-ers,” completed my experience at U-Make. As it turns out, kiters talk (and have each others’ backs), and Linda received a tip that my machine was not behaving. She had a machine ready and waiting for me when I ar- rived that allowed me to usurp my sewing ma- chine woes and start fresh. It’s amazing how fast and able I felt with a clear-headed machine! We each decided what shapes and patterns we wanted on our banner and utilized the appliqué technique accordingly. Everyone’s appliqué was unique and turned out to be pretty adorable. We really took away the ability to apply appliqué technique to execute our own visions and design. U-Make operated like a home and a family. The classes and projects covered all skill levels. There were opportunities to share and grow through- out the weekend. It was a terrific arrangement, offering the benefits of interacting with a whole slew of others, from a wide range of experience and backgrounds, from very left-brained to right-brained fields, all with a common thread in kites and community.
U-Make is a place where kites are the fruit of ca- maraderie. There is something about kiting that draws us together, dovetailing our aspirations and unique visceral experiences to the creative and analytical process of a kite’s design, construction, and its physical engagement in flight. The mere existence of U-Make signals hope and a special connection to the world around us, a common respect and admiration for each other.
For me, U-Make marked a new beginning, that is, an opening, fortifying a crucible of kitemakers ready to ride the tailwinds of life. The best part is I got to take a bit of the dream house U-Make built, in the form of new kites, thoughts, stories, connections, memories and lofty thoughts, home with me to the windy city… bravo Whitney, iT is suCh a deliGhT To re- visiT The experienCe of firsT Time KiTemaKinG exCiTemenT! Go Girl, Go!
Sunrise Moonrise by Donna Houcins was a coveted raffle prize.
The U-Make 2013 crew.