Saturday, May 15, 2010


The kite festivals that we attend around the world each have their own particular celebratory nature. Some are huge events attracting thousands of spectators and hundreds of kite flyers around the world. They are like a circus aerial act, with performers launching their creations into the overhead arena, white lines stretching upward to the giant sky blue top tent overhead.

We flew to Cervia, Italy recently to attend the 30th annual Cervia International Kite Festival. That number, by all standards for kite festivals, is a long time running. There are only a handful of festivals that have that sort of history and still have the same organizers at the helm. This festival was started by Claudio Capeli, an artist and painter turned kite maker and then kite festival organizer. His daughter, Caterina always at his side in the early days eventually came on board as a co-organizer for the festival. His wife Giovana, helps and manages the kite store tent on the field.

From Germany, Anke Saur's Dot kite ..150 bridle lines!

Cervia is on the upper calf of the boot of Italy, about an hour from Bologna near Ravena on the seaside. As many times as I’ve been there as a participant, I’ve experienced the best winds along with some of the best kite flyers and makers in the world. This particular festival is a favorite among the art kite makers. It is a sky gallery of the most unusual and unique flying creations anywhere. People gather to share ideas and relax in this paradise of sun, sand, wind and clear blue skies.

Although the event spans two weekends, the days pass gently with no particular schedule except adding as much color and movement to the sky overhead as possible. It is rare that Melanie and I experience a kite festival with such perfect gentle and even winds letting us send almost every single kite in our tightly packed bags overhead all at once. When that happens, we hold our breath a bit hoping that it all stays aloft with no wayward kite bringing the whole show swirling to the ground. And, yes, that happened a few times as well. Tangles are a great way of meeting new kite friends.

a flying paper wonder by Austrian kite maker, Anna Rubin

The festival used to be held in the city of Cervia proper on a large beach near the city center. A few years ago, it was moved south to the nearby beach community of Pinarella. The beaches are lined with the familiar beach club bagnos that are normally full at peak summer season. The festival held at the end of April and beginning of May is a welcome early season opener for the town and businesses as kite flyers flock to this place each year.

A parkland strip of pine trees separates the beaches from the town creating a pleasant buffer between the cars, restaurants and bars and the beach scene. Walking there from the town each morning was like entering another world. A row of tents were set up along the beach selling all sorts of goods including kite sellers, curious curios and clothing waving on hangers in the sea breeze. A short distance from the kite fields a large tent housed the children’s kite workshop. Each day streams of kids would enter the tent and make kites guided by some of the international kite flyers. At the end of each session they would hurry to the beach to try out their creations. The sky would bloom into a garden of dancing kites held by excited children.

Melanie relaxing under my Metro Man kite

The kite field was split into several venues. One demonstration area reserved for the aerial acts of supreme sport kite teams and the king of multiple stunt kite flying, Ray Bethel from Vancouver, BC Canada. Further up the field were single line kite flyers with some astounding ground displays of banners, tents, sand ants, beach art, spinning, floating and flying aerial art of all forms. Further up the beach, the larger kites floated overhead dwarfing the handlers camped out at the enormous sand bag and stake anchor points. The scene through the week passed with these giant floating creatures buffeting in the winds while some slept under the kite shadows or passed the time chatting with old kite friends.

The kid's kite workshop tent was busy

Volker Hoberg's No Limit giant inflatable kites from Germany

A fine Swiss Tetra kite and my Wrap Man and Dot Man kites behind

Our kite array and banners

A portfolio of fine paper kites

A very relaxed kite flyer

Banners by the seaside

Ready for launch

The public area beach side

It’s a scene that I’m familiar with but somehow, each time creates a memory like a dream that drifts by like a colorful cloud and then, while on the plane flying home, exhausted with warm and happy tan faces reminds us why we do this. It’s just so much fun! And Italy?...I have a hard time thinking of a finer place to pass the time under the Italian sun, on a beach with a few hundred kites overhead dancing in the perfect winds. Grazia Mille, Cervia! Until next time, Ciao!

For more photos of the Cervia International Kite Festival go to the Flickr slide show

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


We recently installed some of our works in a joint exhibit at the Burris Hall Gallery at Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. We just drove down to disassemble the show but here is a synopsis of the show.

Melanie showed a series of her collaged metal plate photographic shadow box works as well as four of a series of House Head prints. The man in the photos is her closest associate and collaborator… me. Also included were our camera peep viewers from a show entitled “Cameraeye Voyaguer”, a cabinet installation of Melanie’s bird houses entitled “Bird Cage of Socrates” and a cabinet installation of mine entitled “Plato’s Cave”

The Bird Cage of Socrates derives from a intellectual dialogue with Theaetetus where Socrates equated the human thought process comparing it to grabbing onto a bird (truth) in an aviary of the mind. Many birds fly by and the chance of catching what one hopes to be a truth in the maelstrom of the mind is a daunting task.

Plato’s Cave relates to his allegorical story about the human mind discerning truth from illusion. Watching dancing shadows on the wall of a cave can be one form of illusion the same as most mediated experiences of reality … ie. television and Youtube. The source of the shadows the light of knowledge is, of course, the greater of the reality and leads one out of the cave of ignorance. The installation features wrinkled paper, about a thousand small paper cut-out moths suspended from the ceiling and a single light bulb.

Also included in this part of the gallery was an installation work of mine entitled “Otto’s Dream”. One large airplane in flames followed by four smaller airplane forms are suspended from the ceiling. Otto Lilianthal was the first to make a heavier than air flight using a glider. Essentially, he was the first man to fly with wings. He made two thousand flights using his gliders from a specially built conical hill outside of Berlin in the 1890’s, inspiring the Wright Brothers in their pursuit of controlled, powered flight. Lilianthal firmly believed the if man learned to fly, there would be no borders to protect and peace would prevail. He was critically injured after a crash and his last dying words were “Small sacrifices must be made”.

Two of Melanie’s kites were included in the show as well. One with an image of a toy house and another from her animal series of photographic tableaus featuring a rabbit headed figure and a rabbit marionette in the woods.

For more photos from the "Sleepwalking Songs" exhibition visit the Airworks Flikr slide show.

Friday, January 8, 2010


When not playing with the winds we are often inside our studio environment doing works that sometimes confound us and keep us from sleeping. Usually this happens when we have a particular public art deadline for a proposal. Maybe I need to explain this process a bit more.

We are public artists both in our kite works and our commissioned aerial sculpture works. The process goes something like this… Step one is scouring the internet calls for art throughout the country. We get announcements through the public 1% for Art programs that are generally government run agencies in all of the states and many cities in the US. A promising project may be a great architectural space or the art committee may even be asking for aerial sculpture in particular for either inside a large atrium space or an outdoor kinetic work. We then review the requirements for applying by sending in images of what we’ve done, resumes, a description of how we work and interest in the project and then send it off. This part is probably the simplest part of the public art process.

Next comes the anticipation, the waiting, the wondering if they forgot us. Nine times out of ten a couple months fly by and we forget about which ones we have applied for. “It’s the economy” we tell ourselves, or, “Maybe we should email them to see if they got our application”. Then the day after we get a polite letter in the mail saying, “Thank you for your application… Many artists applied and, unfortunately you were not chosen in the finalist phase”. The letter then gets added to our rejections file which, over the time period of close to twenty eight years has gotten quite thick.

But, like fishing, there are many casts into the blue beyond and occasionally we do catch one or two. The letter begins something like, ”Thank you for applying. The art committee has convened and has chosen you as one of three (or seven, or twelve) finalists for the project”. This is followed by the both of us cheering and dancing about the room. Then the details are read about the period of time we will have for developing the idea. This is always much too short a time given the processes involved in coming up with a genious idea and crafting it into a bona fide proposal presentation.

Generally we have a month to pull everything together. This means careful researching of the institution or business, finding out appropriate themes, pouring over the architectural plans supplied by the architect, hours and days on the computer making a 3D computer model of the space to familiarize ourselves with the building or area, sketching out the “wild and wacky” ideas, refining to forty other ideas, drawing some more until it enters our dreams, going through night sweats and technical tremors. This is the most difficult stage. Sometimes whole sketchbooks are filled and then we return to our first page idea and decide that’s the best one. Other times it is just plain long and hard work contained in a process I like to call “drawing from the deep well”.

For many years this process followed the building of a physical model of the space. These were generally finely detailed models made for the proposal presentation. The architectural space often defines what can go into it. B
y constructing a model early in the process and spending a lot of time with it, the vision often comes just at the point of desperation. Some call it the ‘Ah-Ha!’- moment. We just call it the “Quick! Get it into the model …. We’re presenting next week!”- dash.

What follows is a generally well rehearsed dance that verges on frenzy. We gather and research the materials for the proposal, figure out the processes, construction, how we get it to the site, how it gets installed, all the costs are calculated into a detailed budgeting for the project, in a word, all the nuts and bolts. These are plugged into our overall plan, detailed drawings are made along with computer renderings using photos of the model.

The physical models have proven to be a necessary step in the presentation of our ideas. Being visual artists we tend to like showing the ideas directly. We call this the “Doll House” effect. Not only are they useful for us in developing a concept but they are invaluable in presenting our ideas to others. The miniature version speaks volumes above the pages of descriptions that are written describing our design intent, narrative descriptions and processes. And, of course, traveling with a large scale architectural model can involve some difficult maneuvers through airports.

We have constructed our models in hotel rooms the night before a presentation after arriving. We have shipped them by FedEx and prayed that they would arrive in time for our presentation. We have done international projects that were proposed using primarily emailed photos directly from our model. We have never (so far!) tripped and dropped our model at the doorway to the presentation room.

What happens in the proposal presentation room is strictly confidential and not for discussion here but there is a lot of hand wringing before hand. Often we wait outside the closed presentation room while another finalist is presenting their proposal. Butterflies tie knots in our stomachs as we wait. And after our presentation is over and all the questions are answered we leave the room with the art committee thanking us for our presentation and ushering in the next artist who is sitting outside with presentation boards, model and that familiar nervous look.

We traveled to Jacksonville, Florida last month, presenting for a project for the Jacksonville Airport there. We have close to seventy large public art projects we have won commissions for over the years. They are in libraries, universities, corporate headquarters, rec centers, schools and health care facilities. We have applied for maybe a couple dozen airport commissions. We figured it would be a good match with us doing aerial inspired works based on kites and using air as a theme and medium for our art. Let’s just say we have added to our rejection pile and have not received any positive notice from the airport arts commissions that decide on these matters. Then, a couple days after returning to Colorado we received an email ….starting with “Congratulations, you have been selected” from the Jacksonville Airport Arts Commission….followed immediately by our little dance for joy around the room and then our “Oh No!” dance….”Now we have to make it!”

Some proposal drawings and models for the connector bridge to the gates at the Jacksonville International Airport.

The project is set to be installed November 2010. Fly through there and see "Air Bridges".

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Each year since I came to Boulder in 1982, I got together with Jim and George, the owners of the Into The Wind kite store to do a little celebratory 1st day of the year kite fly. We would meet in a nearby high school soccer field in the bitter cold and attempt to fly kites with frozen fingers. Then a year later up on top of “Bald Mountain” in the foothills of the Rockies just above Boulder for a fantastic view of the plains spread out below. It was always exhilarating after the long trek to the top in the freezing Colorado weather to unfurl our kites and send them up into the chilly winds.

We’ve managed to keep up this tradition despite Jim’s passing many years back and have been joined by many other friends over the years. Fools on the hill … flying kites when most sane people would be inside nursing a hangover from the New Year’s party the night before. I always thought kite flying is the best way to start a new year off to clear the air and watch the sky.

I think this might be the twenty seventh annual New Year’s Day kite fly. Some of those days on the hill were bitter cold, others warm and almost balmy with winds swirling around the top of Bald Mountain making the kites circle lazily overhead in 360 degree wind shifts. One time a full force blizzard hit as Melanie and I trudged up to the top to get the kites ready. We didn’t think anyone else would join us. Nobody would be that crazy. The road up was almost impassible with blowing snow. On top, out of the mist came friend Tom and his whole family like some apparition yelling our names with his kites under arm. Two other friends showed up and we flew in the blinding snow storm. The kites flew ten or twenty feet overhead but you couldn’t see them. You could only hear the flapping of nylon and feel the tugging of the line. That was one of the best kite flying days ever!

We moved the kite fly off of the top of the mountain and down to the prairie a few years ago. Better winds down below. Then when a Boulder Open Space ranger happened by last year and told us we had to apply for a permit to fly kites there we decided to move the event again. This year we flew in a little used city park on the east side of Boulder near the local airport. It was the perfect place with a big kite field, views of the foothills and the ‘Flatirons’, spectacular clouds over the continental divide and an audience of prairie dogs.

Kites were flown, banners rippled in the sparse winds, hot chocolate and apple cider bubbled on a camp stove with cookies served. A nearby sledding hill helped during the doldrums with some great slides. About fifty friends and friends of friends showed up to celebrate decorating sled kites and flying them in the gentle breeze.

Partway through the day a Boulder Police squad car pulled up into the parking lot. We thought we were going to be busted for flying without a permit or something. He watched the event from inside the police car for a while then we heard the crackle of his loud speaker switched on. “Very cool” he said in a dry speaker voice. Someone on the field yelled to him to come and join us. He clicked on again and said “I wish I could”… and then drove away.

The sun sank behind the mountain top as we cleared up the kites, banners and unfinished hot chocolate. It was the perfect day for sky watching and kite flying while welcoming in a brand new year. Come and join us next year!