“How many kites did you say they can make in two hours?”
~ Carveth Kramer Taos, NM
In a sleepy little town in northern New Mexico, for 18 years, every third weekend in May, there has been a wondrous kite festival. Oops, did I say sleepy. Not really, for the town is Los Alamos (The Cottonwoods) and its neighboring satellite community of White Rock. Los Alamos was a top secret, non-existent, no named town in the 1940s. It is perched, at an elevation of 7,500 feet, on long, almost inaccessible mesas, separated by deep canyons, extending down from the Jemez Mountains. Los Alamos is a site for atomic research started during World War II with the Manhattan Project which developed one of the first atomic bombs. In 1962, the government ended its control and Los Alamos became a self-governing community.
Nowadays, it also deals with oceanographic modeling, clean air and water issues, energy, computers, laser, chaos theory, and biomedical (gene mapping and DNA sequencing) research. It operates one of the three National High Magnetic Field Laboratories and hosts the arViv e-print archive. Being somewhat isolated even now, the community comes together with events for its 5,000 families in both communities.
They are definitely all about kites in the month of May! The festival is put on by the Los Alamos Arts Council (LAAC) and sponsored by the Los Alamos National Bank. In addition to the festival, LAAC teaches kiting and kite making in all the fourth-grade classes in each of the five schools. Focusing on one grade-school class, means, that eventually, they get the kiting message to every student in town.
LAAC also has done kite workshops for the library after-school program, and donates kites each year to Family Strengths Network, who does workshops for young children. The only thing that prevented them from having the festival was the 48,000-acre, Cerro Grande Wildfire, in May, 2000. It tore through the town site destroying over 400 homes. The National Guard was brought in, and Los Alamos and White Rock were totally evacuated. Without missing a beat, next year, the 2001 Los Alamos Kite Festival was a hit.
We have participated every year and one of the things that still amazes us is their kite making process. Now get this, they built 250-400 Frustrationless Flyer kites a day. Impressive, but wait, the real catch is they only build kites for 2 hours each day. Yup, not a typo. Their record, so far, is 400 kites in two hours. They do kites from noon until 2pm on Saturday and again on Sunday. How do they do it? Read on.
Orderly – People naturally start lining up about 11:30, for they know they only have two hours. They are self-trained. They know the drill from previous years. The newbies catch on soon. They have one Starter volunteer at the head of the line of people waiting to go into the kite-making tent. The line is demarcated with cones, flagging and a sign with big red arrows. The Starter's job is to keep them in place, tell people when they can go under the tent to make their kite, and which table to go to. To signal the Starter there is an empty space at a table, a Helper at each table raises their arm, high. The Helpers at the tables get the kites from the Keeper-of-the-Kites, who gets each kite ready. They have 100 kites fully assembled for three-year-olds and under. All others are unassembled.
Tables – There are six sets of two large (2 x 8 foot) tables, set up back to back. They assemble 6-7 kites per double table, or about 36 kites are being constructed at one time. Each set of tables has three Helpers, one Helper per two kites. Sometimes the parents help their child. It can get crowded, but it works. The kite- makers have to tape the small dowel and punch the hole for the bridle line, tie on the bridle line, add the two spines, and decorate their kite. They DO NOT tie the center point knot on the bridle line. All the drawing is done freehand. No patterns to go by. It all comes from their head. An assortment of markers is in coffee cans at each table.
Wind Solution Kite-making is done under a large tent (20' x 40') with no sides, brought in and set up by a tent rental company. The kite committee also sets up several 10 x 10 pop-ups, one of which is used for a Kite Hospital to mend broken kites, add tails, etc. To prevent the wind from messing with the kites while they are being made, they use 4-6, two inch threaded nuts sitting on each kite. The spar, being in place, helps too.
Bridles – The festival has been going every year since 1996, except for 2000, when they had to evacuate Los Alamos due to a wildfire. They will not let the public do the center bridle knot. They have learned that the bridle knot is critical if they don't want to spend hours afterwards fixing kites that don't fly. After they make their kites, they leave the tables and go to the bridle line under another sign with red arrows. There are 2-4 people, with row after row of d-handle winders next to them, tying the center knot and adding the kite line to each kite. Look at all those winders!
Tee Shirts – The festival is funded by the Los Alamos National Bank. All kids get not only a free kite, but a free Tee- shirt. At the end of the bridling area, there is one person handing out Tee-shirts.
Volunteers – Lots of volunteers are key. Where do they come from? Some businesses require employees to do community service each year. The employees love choosing the kite festival, for it is fun. They also use high school students. The Los Alamos Arts Council and Los Alamos National Bank provides volunteers. One thing that helps is it only takes several hours. They are not building kites all day. Some volunteers may only be there only one of the days.
Drop By – If you are ever in the neighborhood, drop by on the third weekend in May. You'll see all the kids pouring out of the kite tent with their new kites. With so many white kites, it looks like it is snowing in May. We'll be there, too. Come on over to our banner display and say “Hi!”