See, Made by Heloise Herself: 250ft White Bird Kites Friendly Dragon
As luck would have it, a Wind Rider made and signed by White Bird Kites founder Heloise Lochman in 1977 landed in my kite bag late last year. Never flown, the kite hung on display in a New England home since the mid-80’s. I spent some time cleaning it up a bit, replacing a wood dowel, and re-bridling it with some advice from Heloise. It looks and flies great!
Hand-made treasures like these from bygone eras bring with them – at least for me anyway – intrigue and a desire to know more about the people who crafted them and any stories they might share about their experiences.
Heloise is such a good sport in welcoming my outreach and questions. She agreed to let me share a bit of her story with you. Here in her own words, is a brief account of how she and her husband Chris got into kiting:
I was a student at UC Berkeley from 1963-67, where I fell in with some friends who liked to produce lavish picnics, with crystal and China, gourmet food, and a couple of kites flying to really decorate the scene. That’s how I first learned something about making kites. Fast forward a few years, it’s Christmas 1971, Chris and I have a year-old baby and no money. I decided to make kites as Christmas gifts for my family. I pinned them up on the ceiling of the living room and they were well received.
I never had any training in art and had always been pushed to value my intellectual side. What I sought for in life was a feeling of unity and connection, which academics didn’t really do for me. But sitting down and making something with my hands was a revelation – it seemed to connect my body, my heart, my intellect, my sense of play, my love of planning things.
So, after Christmas (we were living in San Francisco), I made a few more kites and took them to one of the earliest street artist sites, where the cable cars turned around near Aquatic Park. I still remember THIS — selling my first kite to a tourist from Salt Lake City for $8! That was the ultimate connection for me, to offer my handwork to someone and have them give me their money for it. It was like going on stage for the first time, and I was totally hooked.
Sitting down and making something with my hands was a revelation – it seemed to connect my body, my heart, my intellect, my sense of play, my love of planning things.Heloise Lochman
We were both working straight jobs at that time and juggling childcare by working different shifts. I would walk downtown to the Woolworth’s basement on my lunch hour and buy fabric, make kites, and then sell them all over the Bay Area in craft fairs on the weekends.
Eventually, Dinesh Bahadur came along and opened the store, Come Fly a Kite, amazingly enough about a block from where I sold my first kite. By accident we saw him on our first little TV flying kites and announcing a kite festival in Golden Gate Park that weekend. We came down with some kites, won some prizes, and he asked us to bring him some kites to sell. From there it just grew.
Dinesh became a great teacher to us, in particular by showing us how the curved bow in the India fighter kite would work on a traditional American diamond kite and let us do away with having to bow back the cross-stick to make the kite fly. He helped us re-design the Wind Rider, which I was making in a very different way, and the star kite which I was also making without a curved bow, and which took about 10 pounds of tail (not really) to fly right.
Chris and I view this whole period of discovering our craft and our market to be one of the wonders of our life — talk about good timing! Kite stores were opening around the country, the whole thing flourished, and we eventually spun off Rainbow Rider kites which Chris’s sister Laurel and her husband Stephen managed, to make bigger volumes of the lower-end kites. We were both able to quit our straight jobs and begin hiring a few people to help us. Every White Bird Kite during our whole 30 years of business was designed by me. I assembled the packets that went to our contract sewers, women working at home on their own machines, and these are the craftspeople whose names are signed on the labels of the kites.
And every single one was framed and bridled by Chris, which he had a superb feel for, as you can tell. So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!