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Greta Rybus

Greta Rybus is a photojournalist and photo editor living in Portland. She started her blog, “Who I Met," as a way to begin juicy conversations with interesting people she meets. The blog has migrated with her from Montana, Europe, and, finally, to her new and dearly-loved home in Maine. You can see more of her work at www.gretarybus.com

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Who I Met with Greta Rybus
Posted: July 15, 2014

Tony Heeschen- Kite enthusiast

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Tony unzipped a duffle bag full of kites. He took several of them out one-by-one, getting them airborne and staking them to the ground. They looked like stained glass, and Tony had made each one of them himself. He saved his two favorite kites for last: small, rectangular, high-contrast portraits of his mother and his wife. They gazed down at us from the sky. The wind was mercurial, and the kites began to droop as a bank of clouds approached.  A man walked by, heavily tattooed with cut-off sleeves and a loud voice. He spent a while looking upward. “Is that a person on that kite?” he asked, pointing to the kite portrait of Tony’s mother. “That’s wicked cool, man. Wicked cool.”

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TELL ME ABOUT YOU FIRST MEMORY OF A KITE

When I was a kid growing up, my dad made one out of wrapping paper – birthday wrapping paper – and we flew it. But my first adult memory is when I first moved to Portland. My son was in daycare at Fort Williams and I used to go out there to take him out in the afternoon and I’d see people flying stunt kites and I thought, “That looks like fun.” Maybe a year or two later, when his mom and I were separated, I’d have time on my hands and I bought an inexpensive stunt kite and started flying it. I had one kite for a couple of years and then started meeting with other kite enthusiasts and was introduced to Kites Over New England, a kite club that was, at that time, centered in Massachusetts. I met other people and I bought a few more stunt kites and at one point decided that I wanted a single line kite. A friend of mine who’s a sail maker gave me some fabric and my wife and I started making kites. Actually I have the very first kite we made.

TELL ME ABOUT THE FIRST KITE THAT YOU MADE

It was an Indian-style fighter kite and I still fly it.

 

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TELL ME ABOUT THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF KITES

There are single line kites and sport kites. Sport kites are the kites that you can control with two or four lines and they can go all over the place. Single lines are just hold them and fly them or stake them in the ground and fly them, tie them to a bench, tie them to a fence. They’re any size, from these little kites to one of our friends – you’ve probably seen them – he has giant kites, he has kites that you could see from – on Google earth. One hundred feet long. They’re big! One of his single line kites is 450 square feet. The same kind of fabric, slightly heavier, but you need 2,000-pound line. I like the small kites. I like the artistic kites. They’re just a lot of fun to make. I really enjoy the design process. So for single lines you get anything from small, little panel kites or the basic diamond kite or a delta kite. Both really good choices, good flyers for beginners. The more elaborate kites, the plane kites and the boat kites are pretty but they don’t fly that well, they need more wind than you might expect to fly.

HOW MANY KITES DO YOU HAVE AT YOUR HOME?

I have no idea. Tons! I don’t know.

HOW MANY DO YOU THINK YOU’VE MADE?

I brought 30 or 40 right here with me to the park. I have a bag full of fighter kites, I have those little kites, I have panel kites, I have a number there. Some of them I bought and some of them were given to me. I won a big Rokkaku in a Rokkaku battle.

 

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TELL ME ABOUT WHAT IT FEELS LIKE FOR YOU TO FLY A KITE

It’s just pleasant. It’s not using gas or electricity, although you did use power to sew for your sewing machine, but you have something that’s going to fly for years and years and years. It’s just the wind so it’s kind of a Zen thing. Very relaxing. Even flying stunt kites, you’re kind of one with the wind. You’re out in nature, fresh air.

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT RELATIONSHIP WITH WIND BECAUSE OF KITES?

Like a sailor. Like someone with a sailboat. I’m much more aware of the wind. My friends at work will say, “This must be a great day for kites!” when it’s howling, and I say, “No, not my kites! I want them to come home safe!” We don’t want 20 mile-an-hour winds, we like this kind of wind, a nice gentle day.

I’M CURIOUS ABOUT WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE MARRIED TO ANOTHER PERSON WHO FLIES KITES. DO YOU GO OUT AND FLY THEM TOGETHER?

It’s great! It’s really  good because it’s something we both enjoy a lot and there are a few other couples that like flying too. So it’s nice being able to work together occasionally on some kite project. Some of my kite projects like this fish kite I’m flying today,  I think she might have said, “I think you should use that orange.”

But she doesn’t have much to do with these portrait kites I’ve made, I’ve done them on my own. The cherry blossom was her request and her color choices, my work on the actual construction. With her kites she does the design and some of the sewing and I’ll finish them.

 

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TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE PORTRAITS AND WHAT THEY’VE MEANT TO YOU AND OTHER PEOPLE

The portraits mean a lot to me and it’s nice and fun to have this portrait of my wife on a kite. Occasionally, when people saw that, they said, “I really like that, could you make me one?” Four of them are of people who have passed away. I made one for my sister whose Airedale passed away. The other ones are all black and white, but Pogo’s portrait was color, brown. One of the more recent ones that I did was our friend Cathy. She wasn’t a kite flyer but she was the wife of one of our long-time friends, also kite flyers, and she’d come out with us and she’d read her book while we flew kites. After she passed away her husband really grieved a lot and I just said, “I think I should make a portrait of Cathy, it’d just be nice.” When we gave it to him, he was in tears.

TELL ME ABOUT THE KITE FLYING COMMUNITY

It’s a varied group. On our most recent weekend my wife and I came out and some friends from Waterford came too. He’s a retired Navy guy and he makes kites too. He makes great kites. He came down with his wife and with his son, who I think is still in the Navy, and his wife. He flies big kites, what they call “Peter Lynn giants” after a kite maker from Louisiana. Then another friend joined us – she’s a 30-something from Freeport, a nurse. Then there’s another Tony, he’s also a nurse, he’s a kite maker too, he makes wonderful box kites. And our friend Hank who’s 82 years old, he flies giant kites. He’s an 82-year-old man who flies a 450-square-foot kite! But he makes sure he has help if the wind might pick up.

 

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TELL ME ABOUT KITE FESTIVALS

Well, we regularly go to Dieppe, just outside of Monkton, New Brunswick, and they bring kite flyers, kite makers and they’re a unique festival in North America in that they concentrate on bringing kite makers. Beautiful, some of the finest kite makers in the world. For example, Robert Brassington from Tasmania, he’s my favorite kite maker. He makes just stunning stuff.

DO YOU GET STAR STRUCK WHEN YOU MEET SOME OF THESE GUYS?

Not so much star struck as challenged. Every time I go there I get challenged to up my game, to make  better kites. When I’d see our friend Carl, and show him my work, he’d say, “If you get any better, I might have to break your fingers!” But they bring Robert from Tasmania and Carl from England, kite makers from Italy and France and Germany, it’s a nice celebration. The city of Dieppe pays for all of them to come because it’s a big tourist draw. Thousands of people come and the sky is filled with just some of the finest creations you’ve ever seen.

WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU AS A PERSON?

Living well, generously and not squandering too many resources.

WHAT IS A LESSON THAT YOU HAVE LEARNED OR ARE LEARNING IN YOUR LIFE RECENTLY?

That’s a tough one. I don’t know! I’m still learning. Be patient with the people that are closest to you. Life’s too short! Patience is a virtue and sometimes we’re all a little too short but if you can just step back and relax, not take the moment too seriously.

 

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WHAT IS THE GREATEST GIFT OR BLESSING IN YOUR LIFE?

My 28-year-old-son. My wife is second best, but you have to put children first!

WHAT IS THE GREATEST STRUGGLE IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?

Well, it’s not now, but I struggled with cancer. It was a couple of years ago. But it’s good now. But that was a pretty big struggle. Yes, I’m healthy now. I can get out there and ride 25 miles on a bike. I’m a biker.

IF YOU HAD A MOTTO OR MANTRA WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I could steal one from one of my kite flying friends! He says, “It’s just kites!” I belong to this group called Kites Over New England, sometimes they just get way too crazy with their club rules and their meetings and their board of directors and try to do this and that. He was a former president and he was hands off, relaxed. “It’s just kites.” I try not to take things too seriously. Life’s too short.

WHAT IS THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?

Mornings. Mornings are great.

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