“Tako kichi,” the Japanese words meaning “kite crazy,” aptly describe art classes at the Bergens the past two weeks as students learned all about kites.
Students at both Bergen Meadow and Bergen Valley elementary schools cut the paper, dyed it, and added the bamboo-stick supports and tails to create simple but beautiful Japanese kites. Plus, they learned some history of the art form, which dates back at least 2,000 years.
The school art projects were courtesy of the artist-in-residence program, sponsored by the Bergens PTA. This year Scott Skinner, a kite maker and collector, taught the students his craft.
Skinner, who lives in Monument, is board president of the Drachen Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching people around the world about kites. “Drachen,” by the way, means “kite” in German.
Foundation members teach others about kite-making, sponsor kite festivals and provide touring kite museums.
At Bergen Meadow Elementary School, Skinner hung kites from different countries around the art room so students could see that they come in all sizes, shapes and colors.
He also discussed the historical significance of kites. In some cultures, kites have been used for fishing, for monitoring weather and for sport, in addition to the recreational uses seen in the United States.
Skinner told fifth-graders at Bergen Valley that they needed to be careful when gluing the bamboo sticks to the diamond-shaped paper because the goal was to make kites that would fly. “That’s the important part,” he said.
The students used a Japanese dying technique called shibori that looks similar to tie-dying. They dipped small sections of the kites into watercolor paint, creating almost a snowflake effect. The pinks, yellows, blues, purples and greens made virtual kite rainbows.
In a room full of about 20 fifth-graders working intently and quietly on their projects, Jenny Jensen, 11, said she was excited to take her kite home so she could learn how to fly it. She said learning about kites and making them had been a lot of fun.
Teddy Evans said he was impressed to learn that kites come from “a whole bunch of different cultures, and each of the places makes something different.”
Shea Mohnhaupt suggested that kite-making and kite-flying could become a new hobby for her.
Skinner said that usually the Drachen Foundation provides materials and instruction to teachers, so they can teach students about kites. But since he lives close to Evergreen, he was glad to teach the workshops himself.
Skinner, who has been making kites for 30 years, said it was fun to teach kids a new skill.
The students didn’t have a formal opportunity to fly the kites during school, but Skinner tested a few of them in the classroom just to make sure they were flight-worthy.
Skinner says kites are meant to be flown. Maybe it’s a question of how high they will go.
As American scholar William Arthur Ward said: “The optimist pleasantly ponders how high his kite will fly; the pessimist woefully wonders how soon his kite will fall.”