Forget What You Know About KITES!

Diving Ladies

Diving Ladies

Forget what you know about kites. Well, that was probably easy. The kite as an art form has alluded most of American culture and art (save that heart warming scene at the end of Mary Poppins.) Local artists and owners of Air Works Studios George Peters and Melanie Walker graciously allowed me to visit their studio and discuss their upcoming Kites! class and opened my eyes to the kite as an art form. I quickly found my experience and knowledge of kites was limited, but George and Melanie happily led me to their personalized Pandora’s box. It was filled with kites.

Melanie Walker and George Peters’ studio in Boulder is a wonderland of eclectic collections, remnants of art pieces past, and of course, kites. They also work with sculpture, aerial art, and public art to create new surroundings and experiences. “We lean more towards giving art experiences which lead to creating an atmosphere rather than a single object,” Melanie explained. You can find their air installations peppering the nation, as well as right here in Boulder. (Fly on over to their website to see a long list of projects and commissions.)

Although their art takes many different forms, their love of kites is apparent. George and Melanie recently found pictures of each of them flying kites with their own fathers at a very early age, 6 and 4 respectively. However, George’s kite making beginnings started with the book The Art of the Japanese Kite, which opened his eyes to the wide world of kites. “Once you see what people have done in the history of kites, you begin to understand it isn’t just diamonds. There are many forms.” He quickly walked about the studio, carefully selecting books to support his claim. Melanie explained further, “Any form will fly as long as there is enough surface area to catch the wind.”

Wind Bow Arch

Wind Bow Arch

George and Melanie opened book after book, introducing me to artists and entire cultures of unique aerial art forms, both modern and thousands of years old. They were right about the diamond; it has a rather limited association with kites.

In Afghanistan, kites fight by ‘cutting’ each others kites of out the air. Shards of glass are rubbed onto the kite strings with the intent of cutting  the string of your opponent.  Thirty foot long Day of the Dead kites fly over the cemeteries in Guatemala, honoring loved ones. China has a long, colorful history with celebratory kites that simply cannot be summed up here. The historical list goes on and on. Modern kites from Anna Rubin and Jackie Matisse stretch the word kite and include forms you wouldn’t believe could fly.

Discussing the cultural affiliations with kites around the world, George said, “I like to emphasize the celebratory aspect of kites. You design them, make them, paint them, and then fly them out in a big field with a whole bunch of your friends. And you’re bound to make more friends when you launch a kite. People come from all over the park or beach to talk kites.” Melanie added, “Kites are really commercialized in this country where as other countries have more of a celebratory feel regarding their kite traditions.”

Perhaps that’s why they take their show on the road often, entering and flying their kites in international kite festivals all over the globe. “It’s often where we test our kites,” George announced. “You get it up there and watch it immediately zzzzrrrrrroooommmm- nose dive onto the ground. Splat! You just run over and hope no one saw and patch it up real quick.” George and Melanie laughed easily at themselves as they told story after story of both failures and successes.

Pieces of Sky

Pieces of Sky

“I was lucky,” Melanie admitted. “By the time I was interested in kites and began working with George, he’d already figured out the hard part of how to make them fly. It took him 3 years before they actually flew right, and I just borrowed the knowledge from all his failures.” It worked out well. George and Melanie have been collaborating on kites in Boulder since 1995. Melanie’s work with photography translates well onto a kite form, backlit by the sun itself.

Well, I’d love to paint a kite and see it flying high in the Colorado sky! But what about the engineering involved? George and Melanie briefly explained the physics of kites, and a bit more about materials, but George laughed  and said, “I don’t even like to emphasize to people that it has to fly. If it doesn’t fly, it can be a really nice wall hanging. It takes the pressure off.”

I’m excited to offer two opportunities for you to learn more about George and Melanie’s rich, fantastical world of kites. On Friday, March 7, Two Hands Paperie will host them for our Visiting Artist Series. Drop in between 2:00 and 5:00 pm to find out more about their approach and history with kites. This event is FREE and open to all.

Better yet, sign up for their KITES! class on Saturday, March 15 from 2:00-6:00pm. It is offered in their studio/mini museum which is a stone’s throw from Two Hands Paperie.

If you can’t make it to the free event or class, stop by the store and look at George and Melanies’ work in our front window, and throughout the store. It will be on display through the month of March.

PETERS - sewing Wrap man kite

George Peters sewing the Wrap Man kite in his studio.