In the 25 years I’ve known him, Scott Skinner has gone from a casual collector of kites to a passionate collector, then to a designer and maker, then archivist, then founder of a nonprofit foundation, and now a world class. . . . .ballroom dancer! His childlike and contagious enthusiasm for Japanese kites has spread through his works as well as infecting a wide swath of Western kitemakers. I’ve admired his collection for years and even used some examples as springboard for my own designing adventures. More than anything, his grasp of the esthetic of traditional kitemaking in Japan has fine tuned his own approach to creating kites. He has used this passion for the Japanese craft and filtered it through his own personal avenues making ripstop Sode (kimono) kites and delicate paper and bamboo versions as well.

Like the early Impressionists in the 19th century when the graphic and color-rich Japanese woodblock prints first appeared on the scene at the Paris Expo and springboarded the fledgling art movement in a new way of looking, Japanese kites have also strongly affected contemporary European and North American kitemakers. I see this at almost every kite festival. This is partly due to Scott’s work as well as Tal Streeter’s classic The Art of the Japanese Kite.

I’ve traveled far and wide over the years with Scott. He lives only an hour away from me in Colorado and yet we hardly ever see each other here. It’s usually at some farflung kite festival. The ones in Japan, of course, bring out the shine in Scott. To see towering Scott in full hapi coat regalia at a Japanese kite festival with his Ed McMahon laugh booming between his polite bows is to know that this man has somehow returned to the spiritual point of re-entry into Nipponophile heaven.

George Peters

Boulder, Colorado

Artist

Unlike in the West, in Eastern cultures tradition and creativity are not contradictory notions. Creativity may not mean only the breaking off with traditions, it may mean also the deeper understanding of them, the re-interpretation and application of traditions to our life today. I believe Scott follows this way of thinking when he creates something new from the fusion of two different traditions of two different cultures. To borrow Einstein’s formula explaining the nature of montage in films, 1 plus 1 equals 3, that is, the outcome of combining two different images is not a mere sum of two but a third, totally new entity -- as with Scott’s art works. We may wonder, of course, what deep inner reasons he has for being so attracted to the rational order of a functional geometric kite frame and aesthetic grids, but for us spectators they represent the beauty of order.

Istvan Bodoczky

Budapest, Hungary

Artist

Scott Skinnerindex.html
kite maker kite artistindex.html

As a roving kite ambassador, Scott brings joy, enthusiasm, and energy to the field. He also has a keen eye for all things kiting -- prints, sheet music with kite theme, ceramics, historical artifacts are within his area of expertise. As a kitemaker, Scott uses American art forms, particularly quilting, and marries them with traditional flying platforms from Asia to produce remarkable hybrids that flatter both cultures. Best of all after 30 years, Scott still is having -- and sharing -- the fun.

David Gomberg

Neotsu, Oregon

10-term president of the American Kitefliers Association

Scott Skinner has been a dedicated kitemaker, flier, collector, teacher, and philanthropist of the sport with the Drachen Foundation in Seattle for three decades, but in recent years he has concentrated on a new aspect of kiting. He has more and more dedicated himself to creating art kites -- kites emphasizing beauty and originality. Scott began this process of making art kites with the inspiration to marry traditional American quilt designs with Japanese kite shapes and motifs. He has gone on from there.

Having taken up kites in 1976 after leaving the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he was a pilot instructor, he started collecting from the start and soon began crafting kites as well. “Having studied kites, I knew what images were lasting -- geometric ones. I became a student of traditional American patchwork quilts. My collection of books on the subject grew to a meter high. There was always a detail in a quilt that could be exploited for kitemaking, as an example, a wave detail.”

“I learned to focus on a simple image. But within that image a lot would be going on. For instance, if I wanted the color blue, I might render it in four shades. When flying, the tones would merge into one color. But the level of detail makes a contribution at a great distance. You might not be able to see it but it’s there. For example, if a flying kite is backlit, that produces one look. If light strikes the face of the kite and is reflected, that is another.

“What’s an art kite anyway? It’s a personal statement. I’m completely at ease if I’m the sole person to appreciate the kite; if others like it too, I’m thrilled. But I’m the first judge and the most critical one.”

Early on, Scott collected and flew large, colorful geometric kites by Reza Rageb, who ran a kite shop near Scott’s home.  “He exploited a crossover market that was just starting. His kites were made to fly well, and the best of them were certainly art kites as well. He set me an example. Like Reza’s, all of my kites must fly decently. I’m not picky on this score. My real focus is always on the esthetics, the art.”

From the beginning, Scott used modern materials such as ripstop. With its very limited palette, this fabric enabled him to explore layering and use multiple shades of single colors. At one point he turned to bamboo and paper kites in the Japanese tradition, using handmade paper (washi to the Japanese). As well as studying kites through many trips to far corners of the globe, Scott has done extensive studies on folk papermaking.

How many kites has he made all told? “Maybe a couple of hundred. Some were given to museums, some traded, some donated to festival fund raisers. They’re out there. I’ve not sold a single one.”

This means Scott has lots of old timers available. “I like to look into my stash every now and then and find kites that haven’t seen the light of day for years, pull them out, fly them. I’m recycling them. It’s putting an old friend up in the sky again. I fly them for a year or so and then put them back for a rest.”

A painstaking craftsman, it takes Scott a couple of months to do a big kite. “Winter is the time for kitemaking for me here in Monument, Colorado, where I live. The weather is crummy and I don’t travel much at that time. If I can make one of my ripstop kites and a few bamboo and paper ones, that’s a good season for me. I’m not prolific.”

Skinner has done two intensive collaborations with American fine artists, one with Lesley Dill during which a distorted, powerful male image was explored in a series of variations and one with artist Susan Robb during which the cyanotype process was exploited. In this technique, an object -- say, a large leaf -- is placed on top of photo sensitive paper and exposed to the sun. Developed like a photograph, the object shows up as a negative image. If it is quite thin to begin with, as a leaf might be, then the veining shows up. The detail can be amazing. Backed and framed, lovely ecological kites result.

Scott’s work has been seen and admired over the years at kite festivals around the world. He has also exhibited widely and his work has been reproduced in magazines and books. His admirers include some of the best kitemakers. His global influence is obvious to those acquainted with the field.

Two inevitable questions arise. Which are the leading kitemaking countries of the world and who are the very best makers of art kites? In Scott’s view, Japan without question leads in both. “Their painting technique is a wonder, paper craft work meticulous. In the end, their kites are spectacular.” He singles out Nobuhiko Yoshizumi as one “who has gone to a new level. It was almost traumatic for him to break away from the traditional Japanese esthetic. He has all the skills, does really exciting and different kites.” Mikio Toki, on the other hand, he praises for working hard to maintain the traditional kites of Tokyo. “I’m biased. A lot of Japanese kites are untouchable,” says Scott. “Making them requires great skill: the bending of the bamboo, the delicate balance, the final look. They have to fly well. And if equipped with a hummer, they have to sound well, too. The small Japanese cicada may be my all-time favorite art kite.”

China he cites for its tremendous variety. Of particular note are its three-dimensional kites -- the ubiquitous flying dragons, for example. “My own favorite maker is Chen Zhao Ji of Xian who makes mechanical kites able to move in up to nine ways simultaneously -- dragon’s eyes blinking, mouth opening and closing, ears flapping, whiskers twitching. For traditional kites, the Kong and Ha families of Beijing are notable.”

In Bali there are three traditional models to be viewed at any festival. “But when the Balinese improvise, they come up with creations you can hardly believe -- flying tanks and ships, that sort of thing.”

“Indonesia, Cambodia and Malaysia have so many masters it is hard to know all the names. There is no chance of kite traditions being lost in those countries.”

“Guatemala uses an unusual kitemaking technique -- layering,” he comments. “Great craftsmanship is seen in the really giant kites up to 40 feet wide created and flown there. Kites are flown ritually but are used also for a political purpose. The downtrodden Mayans put revolutionary messages on them addressed to the dominant Latinos to make the point they, the Indians, are talented people too and need a stronger political voice.

“In the Indian subcontinent, the art is in the flying of their little fighters,” notes Scott. “They’re functional, different from other art kites. But this differing definition of what constitutes art kites -- beauty of flight rather than the kite itself -- is a legitimate one, I feel.”

“In the West, the best artists as kitemakers might include Americans Tal Streeter, who has been very influential with his kites and books, and George Peters, Austrian Anna Rubin, Australian Robert Brasington, and Canadian Robert Trepanier. France has Pierre Fabre and Claude Lea Camallonga. Istvan Bodoczky of Hungary and Curt Asker, a Swede living in France, are trailblazers; Asker’s X Marks the Spot kite stays with you. It is a strong and unexpected image, makes you do a double take. Jose Sainz of the U.S. brings an interesting Spanish esthetic to the field. Peter Lynn of New Zealand is one of the more artistic people out there. He usually picks a shape reminiscent of a traditional kite to make his big festival kites. He may not admit it but he’s an artist.”

The current kitemaking scene is an exciting one, in Scott’s view. “People with real skill in the arts are coming to the sport and making new, dynamic kites. This collaboration is a great way to expose kites to the public, to a wider audience. And it’s a great teaching technique. It’s a doorway to making political, ecological and other useful statements.”



Biography by: Ben Ruhe

Website by: Katie Davis

bio
portfolioportfolio/portfolio.htmlshapeimage_7_link_0
exhibitionsexhibitions.htmlshapeimage_8_link_0
publicationspublications.htmlshapeimage_9_link_0

Scott has got a significant design signature. His subtle and considered use of Japanese and American craft iconography, linked with the unusually large scale of his work, commands the viewer to take note. Unlike his Asian counterparts, Scott uses predominantly modern materials and by skillfully reworking just fragments of original art and craft, he makes his work quite unlike any other either in the West or in Asia. Steeped in kitemaking tradition, Japanese kitemakers are unable or unwilling to break free. Scott has added to the landscape of modern kite art and design by doing just that.

Robert Brasington

Tasmania, Australia

Kitemaker and exhibition flier

Scott’s kites are very inspiring, unique and wonderful aerial sculptures. Each kite is a part of a larger story that comes across as a complete vision. They are a pleasure to see in the sky. His kites are made to a very high standard and there is no doubt he can be classed as one of the world’s uppermost kitemakers.

Malcolm Goodman

Teesdale, England

Kite museum director and collector

Working with Scott Skinner on the collaborative kite Divide Light was one of the best communal experiences of my life. It was an example of how working together brings out the very best in people. Scott and I and the others involved in the project all had a devotion to success -- in the sense of poetic excellence, meaning and technical craftsmanship. I found Scott to be an indomitable and upbeat problem solver. For the project, we used the shape of a sitting Buddha figure, which, it turned out, when translated to a kite, had some flying challenges. I offered to reshape the idea, but Scott was so entranced with solving the flight dilemma he insisted on working it out. We made and he flew two test kites, the second being extremely successful. I came to think of Scott as “Mr. Yes.” Which is a good thing because his main working area is the sky. How can you say “no” to wind and air and an infinite ceiling?

Lesley Dill

Brooklyn, New York

Artist