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Robert Trepanier's kite of the giant man flies over the ocean.

Robert Trepanier's huge man-kite hovers over the ocean. To see more of Trepanier's work and others, visit the Weisman Art Museum from June 19 through September 12. Free family day is June 20 from noon to 4 p.m.

TAKO: Japanese-inspired kites soar at the Weisman

Japanese-inspired kites soar at the Weisman

By Cass Erickson

Published on June 18, 2004

There's something inexplicable about flying a kite. Hand the string of an airborne kite to an unsuspecting adult and the result is practically guaranteed. Kite builders refer to it as "the kite-flyer's smile." A new exhibit at the Weisman Art Museum, "TAKO: Japanese Kites Inspire Western Kitemakers," features an uplifting collection of kites made by renowned North American kitemakers Tal Streeter, Scott Skinner, Robert Trepanier, and Stuart Allen, along with some of the boldly colorful Japanese kites that inspired them. The exhibit is open from June 19 through September 12. More than any other kite in Asia or India, Western artists are drawn to the Japanese kite--or tako--a 1,000-year-old tradition. A painter such as Trepanier is attracted to the nice flat surfaces of the kite; others resonate with its rigid geometry. Unlike other countries, every region in Japan has its own style. "India probably has the most kite flyers per capita, but they're all flying the same kite," says exhibit curator and artist Stuart Allen.

Ultimately, their greatest function is simply to encourage the viewer to look up and, for a moment, consider the sky.

The collection transcends the ordinary Western image of kites and is mounted high off the museum's walls, the kites fluttering under the skylights, which have been opened for the exhibit. The kites range from a few inches to nearly five miles long when fully flying. Skinner created one of the smaller kites from Sumo wrestling schedules. Trepanier's kites depict grand figures that are both whimsical and perplexing. His subjects are taken from everyday life and are amazing to see in kite form: an oversized bulldog, a 19-foot man, and a giant disembodied head. Allen, a multi-media artist, is most interested in the kite's ability to call attention to wind, light, and changing atmospheric conditions. The Japanese kites typically portray war heros from myth or folk stories. In a piece called Kintaro, a boy does battle with dragons and carp, which symbolizes bravery. The kites are designed for use, and most have touched the air over two or three continents. They are made of either paper and bamboo, in keeping with the Japanese tradition, or nylon and fiberglass. They are flat and follow the same configuration of the spars (or sticks) of the Japanese Edo style. When flown they have a slight bow and encourage a change of perspective and an interaction with the natural world. Ultimately, their greatest function is simply to encourage the viewer to look up and, for a moment, consider the sky. In traditional Japanese culture, kites were considered an intermediary between the heavens and earth. Trepanier, Skinner, and Allen regard Tal Streeter among their most important influences. Streeter spent two years in Japan studying the art of kitemaking and later wrote the Art of the Japanese Kite, considered the most influential book about kites ever published in English. Sunday, June 20, is family day. The museum will be open from noon to 4 p.m. and it's free. Stop by and explore the exhibit and make your own kite with Montreal artist Robert Trepanier and see him demonstrate Japanese kitemaking. The Weisman Art Museum is located at 333 East River Road on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. For more information, visit or call 612-625-9494.

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