Middlebury College Museum of Art

News & Events

College Museum Filled with Chinese Kites

April 11, 2008

“Wafting on a Heavenly Breeze: Hand-Painted Kites from China”

May 22–August 10, 2008

For immediate release: 4/11/08
For further information contact: Colin Mackenzie, (802) 443–5558

Middlebury, VT— This summer a riot of brilliant colors and intriguing shapes will fill the Christian A. Johnson Gallery at the Middlebury College Museum of Art in an exhibition of hand-crafted kites from China, the birthplace of kite making. Wafting on a Heavenly Breeze: Hand-Painted Kites from China, which opens on May 22 and runs through August 10, comprises almost fifty contemporary kites made from bamboo, silk, and paper.

Wafting on a Heavenly Breeze takes the place of the exhibitionBeyond Chinggis Khan: Mongolian Buddhist Art from the Rubin Museum of Art, which has been canceled.

The great majority of the kites represent traditional themes such as dragons, phoenixes, swallows, goldfish, dragonflies, bats, owls, butterflies, and mythological personages. Most range in size from around fifteen inches to six feet in width, but the exhibition also includes a number of “accordion” kites stretching up to seventy feet in length. Pride of place among these goes to a spectacular dragon kite with a large head, horns in the form of smaller dragons, gaping mouth, bulging eyes, and long red beard displayed at the entrance to the museum in the lobby of the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts. Other examples of this form include a Monkey King kite and a centipede.

Another outstanding piece is a large swallow kite commissioned specially for the exhibition from master kite maker Ha Yiqi. This is vigorously painted with dragons emerging from clouds.

One intriguing kite includes a windmill that uses a series of cogs to move a frog toward a grasshopper.

Some of the kites are displayed suspended from the ceiling as if in flight, while others are displayed on walls so that they can be seen close up. Among the latter are a number of kite frames shown in a stage before the application of the silk coverings, and these “skeletons” allow the lightweight bamboo construction of the kites to be appreciated.

The mythological and real animal forms embodied by the kites reflect the age-old Chinese love of auspicious symbolism, and the symbolic meanings are explained in text panels. There will also be text panels explaining the construction of kites, their aerodynamics, and theories about the origins of kites. Invented around the fifth century B.C.E., kites seem to have initially played a military role as aerial reconnaissance instruments, but by the time of the Tang dynasty (618–906) kite flying had become popular as a pastime among the court and aristocracy, and soon spread to the general populace. Kites and kite flying inspired painters and poets, and the exhibition includes translations of Chinese poems evoking the romance of kite flying.

Almost all of the kites were made at Yangjiabu in Weifang, in the province of Shandong. Weifang claims to have been the birthplace of kites and each spring hosts a large international annual kite festival.

The Middlebury College Museum of Art, located on Route 30 on the southern edge of campus, is free and open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. It is closed Mondays. The Museum is accessible to people with varying disabilities. Parking is available in the Center for the Arts parking lot. For further information, please call (802) 443–5007 or TTY (802) 443–3155, or visit the Museum’s website at museum.middlebury.edu.