Kite enthusiasts, young and old, made their way to Green Hill Park on Saturday, April 16 for the 18th annual Blue Ridge Kite Festival. Among the colorful kites soaring across the blue sky, a few in particular stood out for their craftsmanship.
While some were content to fly cheaper plastic kites, or family heirlooms they had been using for years, Charlie Dunton, the creator of Dunton-Taylor Box Delta kites, and his friend, Paul Dugard, sported intricate pieces that Dunton stitched together thread by thread. The kites, which were the highest in the sky, when stretched out, were nearly as tall as the men flying them.
Dugard, who stays busy traveling to kite festivals from coast to coast, said the Salem festival, which is put on each year by the Salem-Roanoke County Chamber of Commerce and regularly draws in thousands, has long been a favorite of his. In fact, he has never missed a festival, even in 2013 when others considered the event to be a washout because of rain.
“Every type of kite that is out there, I fly,” Dugard said, pointing to his kite that seemed to be miles above the others. “The trick is to get a good flying kite, and just let line out.”
Dugard, who became hooked on kites in the mid ‘80s while at the beach with his family, said he and Dunton are both considered to be master kite makers. Now, he is a professional flyer and and travels on a team. He added that his favorite type of kite to fly is by far a Revolution, or stunt kite.
“We go to these different workshops, which we have been doing for so many years,” Dugard said. “You learn the technique of how to make a kite, how to sew a kite, how to do the edge binding, how to do applique,” Duggard said. “It’s a way to learn all of the different facets of a kite.”
“I have so many kite friends,” he added. “I really, really do.”
Dunton, who has been a kite enthusiast for 37 years, said for him, making kites is his pride and joy, and his craft is about quality rather than quantity. He said generally, it takes him around 75 to 100 hours to craft a kite he can be proud of. He utilizes a style of applique that requires multiple layers of stacked fabric, and uses a soldering iron and scissors to complete.
“It just takes practice,” Dunton said. “That’s the thing about kite flyers. They share what they’ve figured out.”
Dunton is an aeronautical engineer, and said he enjoys using that knowledge to his advantage when creating and flying kites.
“I like making something that is strong, but light weight,” he said. “I also enjoy the craftsmanship aspect of it. I like bringing them out to festivals. You hope they will be something people will enjoy and get excited about.”
For some, like father-daughter duo Mark and Sarah Wilkie, the event is about tradition. Sarah, a 2013 Salem High School graduate, said she has been attending the festival ever since she was a kid.
“We’ve been using this same one every year,” Sarah said. “I’ve been coming here ever since I was 6, and it just gets better and better.”
Even with no fancy kite in tow, the two managed to find a place for their multi-colored, tattered one in the sky.
“You’ve just got to have some wind,” Sarah said, smiling.