ISFA News, Volume 2, no. 2 (October, 1996)

ISFA Publishes Third Bulletin

It’s hard to believe, but this year’s issue of Bulletin of the International String Figure Association is the best yet, due largely to the wide variety of material presented. Volume 3 (190 pages) features twelve articles, eleven book and video reviews, nine letters to the editor, and of course our ever popular “Modern String Figures” section. If you particularly enjoy a specific article, send a letter of appreciation to the author — hard work deserves recognition! After all, without our contributing authors there would be no Bulletin.

The cost of printing and mailing this year’s Bulletin was $3175, which means that your financial support in the form of membership dues is more important than ever. Mailing will begin in early October. Members residing outside North America can expect to receive their copy in late November (surface mail).

Welcome New Members

Since the last issue of our newsletter, ISFA has acquired twenty-nine new members. Many found us on the World-Wide-Web. We now have 87 members submitting annual dues of $25 or more! Please join me in welcoming Nicolas Rothwell, Sydney, Australia; Carey Smith, Stratford, New Zealand; Joanne Thiel, Ontario, Canada; Deirdre Ní Cheallaigh, Ireland, Cordula Feuerstack and Jaimen McMillan, Stuttgart, Germany; Elizabeth Allen, Oslo, Norway; Martin Probert, Plymouth, England; Kazuo Kamiya, Kasu City, Kiyotaka Karino, Miyazu City, Kiyota Ohzeki, Utsunomiya City, Na-o-aki Takashima, Tokyo, Kiyoshi Takizawa, Omiya City, and Kensaku Tsugita, Izumi City, Japan; Michael Dan Colgate, Colorado Springs, Colorado; George Cumming, East Boston, Massachusetts; Frederick Dick, La Farge, Wisconsin; Paul Fleischman, Pacific Grove, California; Derald Glidden, Richmond, California; Joshua Gordon, San Francisco, California; Julie Hocking, San Diego, California, Edward Jackman, Los Angeles, California; Gladys Lacativo, Oroville, California; Mary Lou Reichard, Woodhaven, Michigan; Sally Rogers, Abington, Connecticut, Harry Templeton, Pawtucket, Rhode Island; Dave Titus, Lawton, Oklahoma; and Manya Sasha Wik, Potter Valley, California.

Member Profiles

In this issue we introduce Henry Rishbeth, son of the infamous Kathleen Haddon. We want to hear from you too! Send us a letter describing your string figure activities and experiences. Include a photo if possible.

Henry Rishbeth & Family, Southampton, England

My mother Kathleen Haddon was born in Dublin in 1888. She accompanied my grandfather A.C. Haddon on his expeditions to North America in 1909 and Papua in 1914. In Papua she acted as his assistant and photographer, and in some villages she was the first white woman the people had ever seen. She specialized in collecting string figures, and published three books, “Cats Cradles from Many Lands” (Longmans Green 1911), “Artists in String” (Methuen 1930), and the popular “String Games for Beginners” (Heffer 1934). In 1917 she married my father Oswald Rishbeth of Mount Gambier, South Australia. She died in 1961.

Mother did not often speak in public, but she did present string figures on what was probably the world’s first TV magazine programme, BBC “Picture Page,” in about 1938 and again in 1946 and 1948. I remember watching the pre-war programme at a hotel in Cambridge, and was present in the “Picture Page” studio at Alexandra Palace, London, during the 1948 show. I have happy memories of occasions when she demonstrated string figures to a few people at home. She encouraged me to try them when, at age 19, I was severely ill in hospital, but my arms weren’t mobile enough. It was not until the early sixties, during my travels as an upper atmosphere physicist, that I took up string figures as a pastime. I can now do almost all the figures in “String Games for Beginners,” but my arms and brain don’t enable me to go much further. My daughters Clare and Tessa are at about the same level as myself, and they have found string figures enjoyable and even useful during their own far-flung travels.

When travelling I take one of Mother’s loops of nylon parachute cord. It has been fun showing Mother’s string to fellow ISFA people — Sam Cannarozzi Yada in Lyon, Mark Sherman in Los Angeles, Hiroshi Noguchi in Tokyo, and Carey Smith visiting England from New Zealand. They all enjoyed trying it!

String Figures by the Rishbeth Family
Left to Right: Clare, Henry, Tessa.
Photo by my wife Pril, 96/09/24

CLARE: Mallee Hen (Scrub Hen): I enjoy the action figures most, the combination of story-telling and images. Children everywhere seem to love the surprise of movement ... the Mallee Hen finale is a guaranteed giggle!

HENRY: Porker: I well remember Mother saying "Porker, him come... Porker, him go". This is the most complex figure I can do, and it's very pleasing. Upside down, it becomes a tree sloth.

TESSA: Island of Moa: I like the loops of string hanging down to form the cloud and, when the presence of this is explained, the figure is easily visualised.

String Figure Magazine Gets Face-Lift

In our last newsletter we introduced String Figure Magazine, ISFA’s attempt to recreate Jayne’s classic monograph in serial form. The response to SFM has been overwhelmingly favorable. In fact, several members have suggested that we make it our primary publication! Although currently available to members only, the magazine is being test marketed at a newspaper stand in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Remarkably, the owner reported selling all twelve copies within a month.

Unfortunately, SFM is not quite ready for mass distribution, the main obstacle being the quality of the illustrations (expensive metal printing plates are required to faithfully reproduce photographs). In response to this dilemma, Mark Sherman and Joseph D’Antoni sharpened their pencils and replaced all the photos in the September issue with line drawings. The results are quite spectacular — one step closer to Jayne! If you have a favorite string figure you would like to see featured in SFM, or are having difficulty making one from its published description, let us know! The September issue (mailed in October with the Bulletin) features the fiendishly difficult “Fox and Whale” in response to one such request.

More String Figure Books, Courtesy of Dr. Noguchi

ISFA Press recently acquired another small supply of out-of-print string figure monographs, this time from Dr. Hiroshi Noguchi, former editor of our Bulletin. Dr. Noguchi (a very generous man!) donated the books in an effort to help us finance the printing of our publications (currently, membership dues cover only half of our expenses).

We now proudly offer the following rare titles, all by Honor Maude unless otherwise indicated: Solomon Island String Figures (1978), 175 pages; String Figures from New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands (1979), 69 pages; The String Figures of Nauru Island (1971), 155 pages; String Figures of the Tuamotus (1984), 150 pages (with Kenneth Emory); String Figures from Pukapuka (1989), 87 pages (with Pearl Beaglehole); Tikopia String Figures (1970), 63 pages (with Sir Raymond Firth), and String Figures from the Gilbert Islands (1958), 161 pages (with H.E. Maude), and finally, Philip Noble’s String Figures of Papua New Guinea (1979), 190 pages.

Since all are quite scarce (you won’t find these in used book stores!) we are asking US $40 for the Gilbert book, $35 each for the Solomon and Nauru books, $30 each for the Tuamotus and Papua books, and $20 each for the New Caledonia, Pukapuka, and Tikopia volumes. Yes, the prices are high, but this is a fund raiser! Quantities are limited (less than 10 each) so don’t delay.

Go Forth with String in Hand...

Many of our members routinely make string figures for an audience. This is an excellent way to ensure that string figures will continue to survive in the modern world. Why not volunteer to give a demonstration at your local library or children’s bookstore? You’ll be surprised by how much fun you have, and you may even learn a few new figures from members of the audience. It’s also a great way to attract new members (ISFA will supply you with brochures upon request). Below is a look at what some members are doing to promote string figures:

John Sigwald, a librarian in Plainview, Texas, regularly gives string figure demonstrations. Each presentation includes a little history of string figures and a short geography lesson using a world map to show kids where some of the figures were “discovered.” John then distributes 3.5 mm polypropylene cords whose ends were melted and joined with the help a flat blade soldering gun. He often uses several differently colored segments when making loops so that the string’s path through the figure can be easily traced. The photo shows the display he uses during his presentation. John’s class was recently featured on the front page of the Plainview Daily Herald (June 4).

Dr. Tom Storer and Marcia Gaynor, both of Ann Arbor Michigan, often weave string figures for children at their public library. Tom remarks that whenever a pupil fumbles, he tells them, “it’s because the ends of your string were joined with a knot.” He then hands them a brightly colored endless loop and encourages them to try again. In order to maintain a reasonable pace when addressing a large group, Marcia recommends teaching a few bright pupils first, then allowing them to help the others. In addition to his work with children, Dr. Storer will be teaching a college-level class on string figures in the math department at the University of Michigan.

Greg Keith was recently invited by the Klutz Press bookstore in Santa Cruz, California, to do a string figure show (Klutz Press distributes two highly successful string figure books by Anne Akers Johnson). The gig lasted 90 minutes. Greg did a few introductory figures, read his article from BISFA volume 1, then broke out a 65-foot rope and did three big figures with the help of audience members. The rest of the time was spent teaching a few interested individuals. He even distributed a few copies of our Bulletin (thanks Greg!).

For many years Mary Lou Reichard has been demonstrating string figures at the Michigan State Fair. She also teaches them at weaving conferences, and would like to see them incorporated into the Folklife Festival held in Washington D.C. each year.

Anthropologist Daniel McCarthy teaches string figures to participants in the Elderhostel work camp, located in the San Bernardino National Forest near Riverside, California. Daniel, a rock art expert, learned string figures from none other than L.S.B. Leakey. As a result of his work with local Native Americans (Cahuilla tribe) Daniel has acquired a few new figures he hopes to publish in a future issue of our Bulletin.

Dave Titus, a professional storyteller based in Lawton, Oklahoma, incorporates string figures into all of his performances. On a recent trip to Alaska, Dave encountered tribal elders making string figures not seen in the literature. He is currently trying to finance a return trip so he can capture them on video. Dave is especially interested in string figures that illustrate biblical themes.

Camilla Gryski recently completed her fifth trip the Canadian Arctic — this time to Yellowknife and Fort Smith where she participated in a traditional games festival. With her she took a thousand string loops to distribute. In addition to school visits, she is currently working as a therapeutic clown at hospitals in Toronto.

Michael Pollock, a professor at Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta, uses string figures to enliven his zoology lectures. He’s currently working on an article for our Bulletin describing his repertoire of “string figure animals.” He also plans to write a short report describing “rubber band figures,” which appear to be widely known among local school children. The figures include Batmobile and Star.

Valerie Baadh is a movement specialist teaching games and gym at the San Francisco Waldorf School. She is also a trustee of the Spatial Studies Institute in New York, which trains movement educators. Valerie uses string games, always accompanied by a story or verse, to give content to gestures. She also distributes a “Classroom Play Kit” which includes 25 strings and instructions (with verse) for four simple string figures. For more information, write her at 120 Solano St., Brisbane, CA 94005. She also sells individual rainbow play strings.

In Japan, Kiyota Ozeki and student Kyoko Ando of Utsunomiya University are working on the mathematics of string figures. Kiyota recently returned from a mathematical conference in Vienna. At Nagoya Institute of Technology, Department of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science, Masashi Yamada and student Rahmat Budiarto are likewise working on string figures.

Dr. Carey C. K. Smith of New Zealand has been making string figures for 70 years (!) and has invented many realistic designs, (see his Wine Glass in this year’s Bulletin). The December issue of String Figure Magazine will feature one of his many 3-D inventions (a wheelbarrow). Dr. Smith is currently writing up a collection of 90 string figures gathered by his mother in the Congo early this century. The collection will appear in next year’s Bulletin, weather permitting.

Last updated April 2, 1997
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