Jon Burkhardt, of Potomac, Md., has been making kites for nearly 30 years. He’s sharing some of his secrets this weekend at the Smithsonian’s 42nd annual kite festival in Washington, D.C. - THE WASHINGTON POST

Go Fly A Kite

WASHINGTON — Stability, agility, strength, color — all are qualities that make for a winning kite, says master kite-builder Jon Burkhardt. He should know — he has been making and flying kites for nearly 30 years. The Smithsonian holds its 42nd annual kite festival this weekend, and Burkhardt will be on hand to share his special insight.

Burkhardt's Potomac, Md., workshop is an explosion of color. Kites of every size and shape hang from the ceiling and on the walls.

The room is crowded and well-stocked with interesting things used to produce his magical kites: rolls of sailcloth in lots of colors, a wood-burning tool to seal cloth edges when cut, hand-carved kite-winders made from wood found in his yard, bobbins of thread and a homemade glass-topped desk with a light underneath to help him view a kite's colors. In the corner is a sewing machine with a kite in progress on it.

Burkhardt's passion for kites was fueled long ago by an Indiana man named Ansel Toney, who lived near Burkhardt's parents. Toney had become a legend in the kite world, having taken up the craft when he was older.

"He began seriously making kites when he was 89," Burkhardt says. "He was turning out a dozen 12-foot Delta kites a week on a treadle (foot-powered) sewing machine, cutting his own spars out of Indiana basswood. I don't think I had ever seen anyone so much alive. I said, 'Hey, this guy has found the secret of youth.' "

After spending time with Toney, Burkhardt was hooked.

How many kites has he made? "Not as many as I'd like," he says with enthusiasm. "I've gotten such pleasure from kites. No matter who you are, there is something in kite-flying that appeals to everyone."

Icarus was the kite that started it all for Burkhardt in 1979.

"I was in Wisconsin," Burkhardt says, "and I went to a kite shop and bought a kite that was a representation of the story of Icarus. It's got a lot of neat colors. It was $50. And every woman in my life gave me (a hassle) for spending $50 on a kite."

In Greek mythology, Icarus and his father, Daedalus, were imprisoned by King Minos. To escape, Daedalus made wings for himself and his son, using feathers and wax. He warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, as the wax would melt; or too close to the sea, as the feathers would get wet.

Overcome by the joy of flying, Icarus soared too close to the sun, melting his wings. He fell into the sea and was never seen again.

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