SPIRITED BRITISH KITEMAKER ENCOURAGED FOUNDER († November 2012)
The impetus for One Sky One World was the gift of a kite of peace from a citizen of the United States to the people of the Soviet Union. When Jane Parker-Ambrose designed, made and presented her “Peace Comet” diamond kite and a friendship letter signed by more than 300 American and international kitefliers to the Soviet Women’s Peace Committee during a visit to Moscow in October 1985, it was intended merely as another expression of “people to people” diplomacy. However, during the presentation, the Russian women were especially touched by the beauty of Jane’s kite and her thoughts of the kite as a globally unifying and peaceful symbol. They asked how she could use the kite to further the goal of a peaceful world. Jane responded with a simple idea, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone would fly a kite on one day each year in order to demonstrate that this is one sky and one world.” Her hosts insisted Jane must bring this idea to fruition. She responded, “Not me!”. But, they wouldn’t let her leave without eliciting a promise that she would strive to make her grand suggestion a reality.
Not having intended her gesture to take on such dimensions and not knowing where to begin, she was overwhelmed by the thought of even attempting to champion the “One Sky One World” idea. Most of all, she was not sure how the growing American and international community of kitefliers would respond to such a notion.
After leaving Russia, Jane stopped in London. There were very few professional women kitemakers like herself; however, she had heard much about an English woman who was especially respected, Jilly Pelham.
Jane had brought along her phone number hoping to meet her. She was anxious to get Jilly’s ideas about One Sky One World. Jilly graciously invited Jane to her shop and then, after work, to a neighborhood pub. As Jilly was the first person she was to tell about One Sky One World, Jane expected to be told she was foolish. Jilly was, instead, immediately excited and supportive. She suggested that it was most important to set a regular annual date.
Jilly remembers having been told by her close friend, kiteflier and owner of Vom Winde Verweht (Gone With the Wind) Kite Shop in Berlin, Michael Steltzer, that all was the traditional kite season in Germany. This was true because September and October were the harvest – newly cut corn fields were ideal for flying kites. Jilly also pointed out that the American Kitefliers Association also hold their annual convention in the Fall. She felt that a Fall date would stimulate AKA’s involvement. Together, they settled on the second Sunday of October as Jane’s presentation in Moscow had occured in early October, and they could think of no other national holidays which would conflict with that day.
Jilly remembers thinking at the time, “Oh gosh, what a brilliant idea.” So, an activist by nature, she wrote to Michael Steltzer telling him of Jane’s presentation in the U.S.S.R. and asking him to help get the international community of kitefliers behind the first One Sky One World set for October 12, 1986. Michael wrote to many of his kiteflying friends around the world. This is how OSOW was launched.
Today, Jilly Pelham continues the art and craft of kitemaking from the countryside in Hythe in Kent on the South coast of England. “On a clear day,” she says, “I can see France.” Her company, Vertical Visuals, produces as many as 22 different kite designs. She is internationally renown for her resplendently colored and skillfully engineered kites. Not surprisingly, her personal commitment to peace and the environment persists.
Trained in college as a fashion designer, Jilly spent fifteen years in London in the fashion industry. Her former husband, David Pelham, worked for a prominent publisher, Penguin Books. During Sunday walks together in 1975, they became fascinated by the unique kites being flown at Parliament Hill, a popular London kiteflying area. She was inspired by the color and design possibilities inherent in kites. She promptly decided to make some kites. “There were a few successes and a few failures.” she says.
As Jilly tells it, one day while flying one of her kites, a guy came up and said, “Would you make me about 50 of those?”. The “guy” was the then owner of the London Kite Store in Covent Garden, Eric Gibson. David Pelham’s concurrent interest in kites led him to write and publish one of the most successful and widely read books on the history and construction of kites, “The Penguin Book of Kites”, still popular today.
She sees the conflicts in parts of Europe and elsewhere today where humankind is suffering, as emanating from “tribal conflicts” and led by men “more interested in reviving old feuds than in working together.” These events cast a shadow over her otherwise positive spirit. “I remember visiting the Berlin Wall with Michael Steltzer about two years before it came down. I walked up to write something on it. What came to me right then was ‘One Sky One World’, of course! I wrote it on a brick quite boldly. I often wonder what happened to it, whether it survived and was sold off like so much of the wall.”
Today, Jilly is an active member of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. The completion of the “Chunnel”, near Hythe, has led to proposals to develop a major highway across Southern England. Part of it would be built “on stilts” across an ancient wetland, “Rommney Marsh.” She has spent time recently working to stop the ambitions of the “big boys” and this latest environmental threat. “Wetlands may not appear visually interesting until you get into them and notice what’s going on. To us, they are very precious.”