New art exhibit takes kite-making to new heights

Shannon and one of his kites

June 25, 2019

The sky is the limit for the “Celebrate the Sky” exhibit at Northern Arizona University’s College of Arts and Letters. More than 20 handmade kites are on display in the Riles Gallery, each designed and sewn together by CAL academic adviser Randy Shannon.

All of Shannon’s kites are full of unique personality. In the collection are animal-shaped kites including a bat, cicada, flying squirrel, fish and shark as well as kites with geometric designs inspired by Caribbean, Asian or Native American cultures. Others are inspired by vintage fighter planes and look like warriors.

“I am best known for my whimsical fighter kites,” Shannon said. “I don’t have a favorite; that is why they are all so unique. I never developed a single style of kite, but I built just about every style at some point.”

Indeed, Shannon’s versatility can be seen in the exhibit. Many kites have long, trailing tails, while others have none. A large rainbow box kite sits on the third floor and the largest kite—a two-person play sail—features hundreds of colorful shapes and is 13 feet wide and 23 feet long. It drapes from the third-floor open area as if in flight.

What all the kites have in common is the skill and care required in assembly. Most of the kites are made from nylon skin with fiberglass, wood, bamboo or carbon fiber spars (the sticks or bones). Dacron, nylon, grosgrain ribbon or Kevlar is used for edging and reinforcements.

The craftsman’s expertise comes from decades of experience. After a chance meeting with a kite-making couple while on a bicycle tour in 1989, Shannon began helping the couple launch and film their kites in flight. His head has been in the clouds ever since.

“Over the years I have literally made hundreds of kites. I made one arch train kite that had 114 kites on one line,” Shannon said. “I made my first kite out of wooden dowels and tissue paper and followed a plan out of a kite book that I checked out of the library, but it didn’t fly it all. My mother had taught me to sew on a sewing machine when I was in kindergarten, so I started making my kites out of spinnaker nylon.”

The “Celebrate the Sky” exhibit is a display of Shannon’s dedication and artistry. It can be seen on the second floor of the Riles Gallery (Bldg. 15) between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. A reception will be held from 4-6 p.m. Aug. 29. Shannon said his kite-making hobby keeps him positive and “looking up toward possibilities.”

Cheyenne Jarrette