Schumacher Gallery launches Art on a String

 Messenger photos by John Matuszak

A dragon kite from China, aeronautically sound and aesthetically striking, is among the more than 50 Asian kites on display in "Art on a String" at Capital University’s Schumacher Gallery. The exhibit includes different designs from Japan, Korea and Vietnam, including fighter kites.

They are works of art built to take to the air, fragile constructions that carry mankind’s weighty hopes for a prosperous future, as well as his more aggressive nature.

Capital University’s Schumacher Gallery will launch "Art on a String," a collection of beautiful and buoyant Asian kites, March 3 through April 11 from its perch on the fourth floor of the Blackmore Library.

An opening reception is scheduled for March 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. Weather permitting, the gallery would like to send aloft student-created kites during the event. A local kite-flying association has also been invited to participate.

Regardless of the atmospheric conditions, Cassandra Tellier, the gallery’s director, is confident that that kites on display will serve as a harbinger of spring.

Tellier first became interested in exhibiting kites during a trip to Asia, where she was impressed by the "aeronautics and aesthetics" of the high-flying objects.

Each one of the kites is built to fly, but the level of painting on each is beautiful, Tellier pointed out.

It took about three years to get the show off the ground, made possible by a loan from the Blair-Murrah collection based in Sibley, Mo.

Tellier and her assistant, David Gentillini, carefully sorted through the 350 kites provided by Blair-Murrah, many of them extremely fragile, before selecting around 50 that provide a wide representation of styles from China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

In Western countries, kites are largely regarded as toys. But in the regions where they originated and flourished, they are freighted with deep cultural significance.

Kites are believed to have originated in China almost 3,000 years ago, where the necessary materials, silk for the sails and line and bamboo for the frames, was available.

Many of the kites are in the shape of birds, speaking to man’s eternal desire to fly, while others depict animals that are symbols of prosperity and power.

Kites were flown as a way to communicate with the gods, decorated with mythological characters.

Such kites continue to be an enigmatic puzzle of symbols. Tellier pointed out that many of the Chinese kites bear images of bats, a reviled creature in Western culture but a bringer of good fortune for Asians.

Many are in the shapes of dragons and birds, which have their own cultural meaning, and others illustrate guardian dogs and lions.

In addition to being used in festivals and celebrations, Chinese kites were soon employed to measure distances and wind speed, and later in military operations to send messages or take a man aloft for reconnaissance.

Kite building drifted to Japan about 1,200 years ago, introduced by Buddhist monks who had visited China and used to carry requests for a rich harvest. The parents of first-born sons were given kites embossed with folk heroes and the powerful and revered koi fish, to endow the child with strength.

The practice of kite flying took off in many other Asian countries, where the sport of kite-fighting sprang up. The object of the game is to cut the string of competing kites, sometimes using wires or tethers coated with ground glass.

The competitions remain popular today, and were the focal point of the novel "The Kite Runner," which takes place in Afghanistan.

Kite festivals also continue to reach new heights, with hundreds of thousands of kites floating in India and other nations.

Kites reached Europe following the travels of Marco Polo in the 1400s, and were later adapted to scientific experiments, most famously in Benjamin Franklin’s attempt to prove that lightning bolts were actually electrical discharges.

The study of the aerodynamics of kites also played a large role in the Wright Brothers’ successful flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., which remains a popular spot for hang gliding and other forms of kite flying.

The most recent technological developments include an attempt to power a ship using kite and wind power, demonstratong that, after thousands of years, kites are still capable of holding our loftiest dreams.

An opening reception for Art on a String will be held March 7 from 5-7 p.m., with wine and appetizers.

The Schumacher Gallery, which includes an extensive permanent collection of European, American, Asian, African and Inuit art, is located on the fourth floor of the Blackmore Library. Hours are Monday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m., during the school year. Admission is free. The gallery will be closed March 20-24 for Easter.

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