San Ramon Art & Wind Festival this weekend
By Lou Fancher
If you see a 24-foot-long centipede with a massive dragon head flying in tremendous loops over San Ramon this weekend, don't freak out. It's not an invasion of elaborate invertebrates: It's the San Ramon Art & Wind Festival at Central Park.
The two-day festival features handcrafted paintings, photographs, jewelry, clothing, pottery, toys, kites and more from 150 artists. Four entertainment stages with local bands, dancers, martial arts groups and vocalists, three gourmet food courts, two kid's amusement zones, kite flying demonstrations, kite-making workshops, helicopter landings, Jaws of Life demos, an exhibit of work by festival artist Rekha Joshi and last year's hit -- the traveling Puppet Art Theater Company's classic shows -- complete the offerings. Celebrating its 29th year, the festival drew 40,000 people last year.
Returning for their second visit (the first was in 2011), a delegation of professional kite fliers from Weifang, China, will share their 2,000-year-old tradition. San Ramon Recreation Supervisor Mary Ann Wilkman said the delegation from the city in Shandong Province that is widely recognized as the "kite capital of the world" approached San Ramon officials about a return visit. Welcoming them, Wilkman said the diverse activities and food presented at the festival will reflect the many cultures of the East Bay.
With San Ramon Economic Development Advisory committee member Andy Li acting as liaison and interpreter, Liu Zhiping, a member of the six-person Chinese delegation, explained the historical and the contemporary significance of kites in China.
"Kites originated in China," Liu said. "Over time, Chinese traditional kite-making technology has been the main feature in the structure, painting and modeling of kites. We will bring dragon kites and 10-meter-long bald eagle kites emblazoned with Chinese and American flags."
The delegation will also bring the ancient woodblock painting techniques used to portray red-crowned cranes, multihued peacocks, and other colorful, exaggeratedly-drawn animals. Figures like "The Eight Immortals" or legends like "Chang'e Ascending to the Moon," created using silk, satin, paper and real feathers are other common subjects. Chinese kites may include more abstract imagery including fans and geometric patterns -- or Chinese characters representing words meaning fortune, rank, longevity or happiness.
But the quintessential kite, Liu said, is the centipede with a dragon head. The kite represents a passion for the good life and the pursuit of sustenance, artistic imagination and harmony, as the centipede and dragon rub together when flown.
"It is a traditional Han Chinese folk craft. Bamboo skeleton, masked material or hooded silk with red, yellow, blue and other bright colors," Liu said.
Asked how kite-making changed when it expanded from China to India, Liu said the countries have established kite materials and cultures with distinguishing features.
"Chinese traditional kites (use) masked material with silk or polyester yarns, and Indian kites most often use paper. Chinese kite-modeling is based mainly on insects, eagles, dragonflies, butterflies and the kites have pictures to depict nature or the main characters. India's kites are more often fight kites," Liu said.
Recognizing the large Indian population in the area and India's position as a country with kite-flying traditions, Wilkman said, "We have not had an international delegation from any country other than China, but we would welcome the opportunity."
Liu said kite culture in China is changing. The younger generation is focused on sport flying and is "increasingly indifferent" to the complicated assembly process of traditional kites. The practice is also expensive, he said, and transporting the kites is inconvenient.
Even so, kite courses are taught in schools and most students trained in the techniques go on to work in China's respected kite-making industry. Kites for foreign guests are a common local gift, Liu said, and almost nothing can compare to the Weifang's annual International Kite Festival, which attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.