High fliers

Kites ranging from the familiar diamond shapes of childhood to multistring stunt kites and from miniature to massive are on display at a Tampa show.

Published July 27, 2006


Kite-flying is one of those rare sports in which we are simultaneously participants and spectators. Stuck on the ground, we watch the real action high above us, a fragile bit of paper or cloth that swoops and soars at the whim of the wind and, if we're lucky, our hands pulling the strings.

This isn't kite season; the air is too still and hot. Launching one when summer storms kick up a wind is not a good idea. (Remember Ben Franklin and the lightning bolt?)

But a small show in the art gallery at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus is a good (air-conditioned) place to daydream about kites past and future. And to see, even tethered to a wall, an elegance born of streamlined necessity.

More than two dozen are on display, a primer of types. The familiar diamond shapes are there, but rendered as miniatures, along with a tiny butterfly, kimono and an elaborate "Extended Wing Cody War Kite" with multiple tiers, all functional.

Suspended from the ceiling are a behemoth alligator and pink elephant that look more like entrants in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade than kites. These "soft" kites are also miniatures in their genre, text tells us. The world record for kites like these is large enough to hold 36 school buses.

A traditional Japanese cornered kite of hand-painted paper, bamboo and string is juxtaposed with a high-tech version made of plastic sheeting, microcarbon and braided polyester. The old-fashioned one, according to its wall text, can withstand higher winds.

Multistring stunt kites are the big show-offs. A nifty example is an authentic Garber Target Kite, one of more than 250,000 made during World War II. Rudders were added to them for greater maneuverability to train gunners on battle ships aiming for incoming enemy airplanes.

Another type of fighting kite is the Rokkakus, a six-cornered Japanese model used in competitive games that are called battles. Designed to turn on a dime and crash into each other, shattering paper and bamboo, the last one flying wins.

Some kites are reformed kamikaze, like a smallish, modified battle number, embellished with a frog and tamed with tails that make it dance in a breeze instead of lunge.

Kites, no matter how sophisticated their design and materials, are philosophically at cross-purposes with 21st century life in which the goal is to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. Kites have no destination, only a journey.

The show, part of kite enthusiast and collector Gary Resnick's large collection, is loaded with wonderful examples of these rudimentary flying machines that, simple as they appear, seem more complex in their workings than rocket science.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or lennie@sptimes.com.

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"Kites: Science, Art and Whimsy" is in the art gallery, located in the library building, at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus, 4001 Tampa Bay Blvd., Tampa. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Free admission. 813 253-7386.

Times Art Critic