A public art project to celebrate Franklin County’s bicentennial is taking off this fall and will be ready to fly high come spring.

Kites of Franklin County will feature 200 creatively decorated stainless steel kites placed at businesses, landmarks and other public places throughout the county for 2019, or longer if the sponsors choose to keep them on display.  

The project is modeled after popular art events such as CowParade, a display of brightly painted bovine statues that has visited many cities around the world over the last 20 years, and, closer to home, St. Louis’ 250th Birthday Cakes, which were placed all over the St. Louis Metro area. One cake was even placed in Washington outside of the Washington Historical Society Museum.

“To honor Franklin County’s Bicentennial and the county’s namesake, Ben Franklin, a kite was chosen as our symbol,” said Wanda Parsons, a member of the Franklin County bicentennial marketing committee.

“The image of Ben Franklin flying his kite during an electrical storm is one we all carry in our minds from grade school forward,” said Marc Houseman, chairman of the bicentennial committee. “This ‘kite project’ promises to raise awareness of the bicentennial celebration throughout the county.”

Franklin County will celebrate its bicentennial throughout 2019 with a variety of events and activities all year long.

In December 1818, the Missouri State Legislature made the decision to create Franklin County out of St. Louis County, and it was implemented in January 1819.

A permanent monument to mark the site of the first Franklin County courthouse in New Port was dedicated in a public ceremony in September. A set of traveling history panels has been created to have on display at events and other places, by request.

An opening ceremony for the county’s bicentennial celebration will be held Saturday, Jan. 12, at East Central College and a bicentennial parade will be held Sunday, June 2, at 11:30 a.m. in Union. The committee also is planning historical tours and lectures, as well as other events and activities. Watch The Missourian for more details as they become available.

While many of those activities and events will appeal to people with an interest in history, Parsons feels the Kites of Franklin County will appeal to people of all ages and interests.

“You don’t have to care about history to have fun with this,” she remarked, noting visiting the places where the kites are displayed can be educational too.

The goal of the Kites of Franklin County is to encourage residents and visitors alike to explore and discover Franklin County’s communities, businesses, parks and tourist destinations, said Parsons. They also can be a source of community pride and a reflection of the area’s creativity, innovation and imagination.

For that reason, the hope is that they will be placed in all corners of the community.

“It is imperative that they be placed throughout the county, in each community and at each tourist destination,” stressed Parsons.

Washington Tourism Director Mary Beth Rettke, who is a member of the bicentennial marketing committee, said the St. Louis Birthday Cake that was placed in Washington became a real drawing card, attracting new people to the community as part of a scavenger hunt event. She hopes the same will happen with the Kites of Franklin County, which will have a Scavenger Hunt activity of its own beginning in the spring.

“I loved seeing people come into Washington and get excited about finding the cake,” said Rettke. “Even tour groups wanted to be sure we stopped at the museum to see the cake and take pictures.

“For some it was just a side-trip, for others this was their destination,” she said. “For whatever the reason, when they came, they also explored the area. I am excited that everyone, near and far, will have the opportunity and reason to visit all corners of our great county while looking for the 200 kites.”

In addition to the kite scavenger hunt, the committee is planning a kite demonstration day next April with members of the Gateway Kiting Club.

Kites Measure 2 by 3 Feet

The kites, which are made of stainless steel and measure 2 feet by 3 feet with a 2-foot long tail, are being manufactured locally by Heat and Control in Union. There is a bevel that divides the kite into four quadrants, just like an actual kite.

“Franklin 200” will be laser cut into the tail of each kite.

They are lightweight, each weighing around 5 pounds, and feature three slot screw tabs on the back (at the top, left and right corners of the kite) making them ready to hang, indoors or outdoors. Parsons is hopeful that the majority of kites will be displayed outdoors, but that is not a requirement.

They could be mounted to the outside of a building or to a post outside.

The decision to make the kites out of stainless steel was dictated in part by price. Fiberglass is expensive and would have made the project prohibitive, said Parsons.

The committee also wanted something that was representative of Franklin County, so they reached out to local manufacturers for alternatives.

“With an abundance of metal fabricators in the region, a stainless steel kite was designed,” said Parsons.

Paint, Decoupage, Vinyl Wrap . . .

Anyone is welcome to sponsor/purchase a kite and have it decorated as they would like, said Parsons. The committee is getting together a list of local artists who would like to partner with sponsors to decorate the kites and give them a professional finish. Guidelines and instructions for painting, including the types of paint recommended, will be included with each kite.

Sponsors will be responsible for the cost of materials and artist fee, if applicable, for decorating their kite.

There are no limits or rules on how the kites have to be decorated, said Parsons. Painting an image, scene or pattern is one idea. Vinyl wrapping and decoupage are others.

Parsons noted that she has found an outdoor decoupage that might be a good option.

“Those are just some of the ideas we came up with. People may have their own visions,” said Parsons.

“We would love the kites to take on the personality of the area in which they are displayed,” said Rettke.

Currently Taking Orders

Only 200 kites are being produced, and they are being sold on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost is $200 each.

When ordering a kite, people can choose to have it delivered already primed and ready to paint or left unprimed, since some decorating options may warrant that.

If there are people or civic groups, for example, that want to participate in the project but do not have a good place to display their kite, they can choose to display it in a public venue, such as a park. The kite committee will work with kite owners to make that possible, said Parsons.

The bicentennial committee currently is taking orders for the kites, which will all be delivered to owners in December, if not sooner.

Kites should be completed and ready for installation by March 2019. Kites that have been installed by May 15 will be included in maps and scavenger hunt materials.

The Kites of Franklin County will officially end Oct. 31, 2019, when the scavenger hunt ends with prizes being awarded.

The kites will become a keepsake for the sponsors, who can continue to display them, sell them, auction them off for charity or any other possibility, said Parsons.

All kite sponsors and artists will be promoted in print and online, both at www.franklinmo200.com and on social media.

To order a kite, people can go online to www.franklinmo200.com/kites and print off an order form to mail in along with payment.

Project partners include the Franklin County 1818 Corporation; Parsons, who represents the City of Union Community Development; Rettke and Emily Underdown, both with Washington Tourism; Jo Schaper, Jesse Stricker with Intek Corporation; Kevin Doerr with K-D Machine & Tool Inc.; Cole Scego with Select Powder Coating; Lyn Havin with Havin Materials Inc.; Donna Houchins with Gateway Kite Club; Lucas Bell with Heat and Control; and Pro Body Works, Union.

For more information on the Kites of Franklin County, people should call Parsons at 636-583-3600, extension 1110.

To schedule having the traveling history panels at an event or specific location, people should call Marc Houseman at 636-239-0280.    

A website with more information on the county bicentennial plans can be found at www.franklinmo200.com. It includes information about the communities in Franklin County, as well as people, places and photos.

More information is continuously being added to the website, so check back often for new details.