Mid Ocean News

March 24. 2005

 

Buyers snap up veteran's 300 kites

by JONATHAN KENT

HUNDREDS of examples of Eugene O'Connor's handiwork will be flying high in the sky over Bermuda tomorrow. The veteran kite maker has put together more than 300 kites this year and has found no shortage of buyers as people scramble to prepare themselves for Bermuda's great Good Friday tradition. Mr. O'Connor, 70, of North Shore Road, Pembroke, has been making kites since he was seven years old. He has staged kite-flying demonstrations for the Department of Tourism and made kites to order, as big as 12 feet across. And with all that experience, it is no wonder that he is known to some as the "Kitemaster".

Mr. O'Connor retired five years ago, having spent 44 years as a projectionist in local movie theatres, as well as 18 years as a truck driver with Works & Engineering. But making kites has always been part of his working life. "When I started out selling kites, I used to sell them for sixpence while the stores were making them for a shilling," Mr. O'Connor recalled. "I was making hundreds every year. The most I made in one year was about 1,400. "This year I only started making them in February. I start out making them in club colours and with designs that have been popular in the past. "Companies have asked me to make kites with their emblem on it and I once made a 12-foot kite for Dellwood Middle School. I can do almost anything if people ask early enough." Mr. O'Connor has regular customers who return to him for their kites every year. This year the bulk of his creations have gone to the Phoenix Stores.

Kite maker Eugene O'Connor, surrounded by his handiwork, pictured with his five-year-old garnddaughter Zoe and his wife Sheila.

Over the years, the kite operation has evolved into a real family business. Mr. O'Connor's wife Sheila does the bookwork and helps with some aspects of the kite making, while his sons Eugene, Jr. and Danny, as well as his daughter Sherrie, all chip in. In recent years, another generation has become involved. Mr. O'Connor said his 11-year-old grandson Sanjay was showing a lot of promise. And even his five-year-old granddaughter Zoe has been helping him to apply paper to the frames. He has honed a system over the years that enables him to put together the white pine wood frames with a cane bender at a rapid pace. Pasting on the paper, complete with intricate designs is more time-consuming and Mr. O'Connor estimated that around three hours of work went into each kite.

The interest his family has shown has given Mr. O'Connor hope that the art of kite making will survive another couple of generations at least. "Many more people used to make their own kites," he said. "I guess people just don't have the time any more. "From my school days I was making kites from sage bush sticks. Then I moved on to box kites made from fennel sticks. "I used paper from paper bags or the paper that bread used to come in. In those days, apples used to come wrapped in soft paper and I used to iron it out to make kites with, before I could afford to buy the paper. "In later years, I would buy coloured paper at ha'penny a sheet from Flood's Variety Store on North Shore Road. They had the best paper and the best variety in Bermuda."

Tomorrow, Mr. O'Connor will venture up to Horseshoe Bay with his family to join hundreds of other kite fliers. While helping his granddaughter get her kite airborne, he will scan the sky to see how many of his creations he can recognise.