ISFA News, Volume 12, no. 2 (September, 2006)

Twelfth and Thirteenth Bulletins

Bulletin of the International String Figure Association, vol. 12 (2005) and vol. 13 (2006), originally scheduled for simultaneous publication in November of this year, are still being edited. We now anticipate a mass mailing in February or March of 2007. The delay is due to a variety of unanticipated events, first and foremost being the debut of String Figure Magazine Online. The good news is that we now have enough money to pay for printing and mailing both volumes (thanks to the overwhelming generosity of members!).

The 2005 issue will include a long-overdue tribute to ISFA founder Hiroshi Noguchi of Tokyo, an article on string figures of the Innu (Naskapi-Montagnais) Indians of Quebec, and several others. The bulk of the 2006 issue will be devoted to Raymund’s collection of string figures from Palau, first published in 1911. The editors are proud to announce that over the summer we successfully reconstructed all the string figures that Raymund illustrated in his article (over 100). More than half are known only in Palau. Again, the editors wish to thank members for their patience as we continue to refine the instructions, correct the illustrations, and verify the facts.

New Members

During the past six months the ISFA acquired 8 new members. In addition, 1 former member rejoined. However, 39 former members failed to renew their memberships in 2006. As a result, we now have 201 members living in 20 countries.

Our new overseas member is: Keith Blackburn, Roscrea, Ireland. Our new Canadian members are: Ken McCuaig, Mississauga, Ontario, and Karen Webster, Calgary, Alberta. Our new US members are: Tia Smirnoff, Mill Valley, California; Frank S. Jannotta, M.D., Tucson, Arizona; Cathy Bon, Fairfax, California; Brandon Lutz, Portland, Oregon; and David Chandler, Woodstock, New York. Rejoining us is Robert Deland, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. We hope our publications enrich your life.

String Figure Angels for 2006

Each year in January we ask members to send us $25 to partially offset our printing and mailing costs (overseas members pay $35). For the balance we rely on the generosity of passionate and/or financially secure members. Although we greatly appreciate every extra dollar that members contribute, we like to acknowledge the generosity of large contributors by dubbing them String Figure Angels. By definition, an angel is anyone who either contributes at least $25 more than the requested amount, purchases a gift membership, or recruits a new member. Archangels are members who send us $100 or more. In 2006, our angels were especially generous, and for that we thank them profusely. Their generosity helped offset the loss of 39 members for 2006.

This year we wish to acknowledge the following String Figure Angels: Kazuhiro Kawashima, Hiroshi Noguchi, Richard Brudzynski, Tom Cutrofello, Joseph Ornstein, Allen Tans, Karen Kavanagh, Deirdre Cheallaigh, Henry Rishbeth, Ian R. Ferguson, Michael G. Grigsby, Wyatt Phillips, Beth Anderson, Avery L. Burns, Dante Carfagna, James Craddock, Clark Crawford, Frederick A. Dick, James S. Foerch, Anita Friedman, William D. Garrison, Marcia Gaynor, Bob Grimes, C.J. Hartman, Ed Henry, Michele Hibbins, Julie Hocking, Belinda Holbrook, Marna Holt, Thomas T. Kubota, Jeffrey F. Lipton, Beverly Matson, Claire Miller, Ronald C. Read, Bryan Reaka, John Sigwald, Audrey C. Small, Randy von Smith, Gelvin Stevenson, Agnes Tomorrow, Daniel Tschudi, and Jacquelyn Viol.

Our String Figure Archangels for 2006 are: Tom and Karen Storer, James Murphy, Joseph D’Antoni, David Titus, Carole Graham, Will and Lillie Wirt, Yukio Shishido, Fred Alcantar Jr., William H. Lawrence, David McDaniel, Catherine Salika, Andrew Devalpine, David F Eisenberg, Lori King, David Parkinson, Mike Sloey, Lois and Earl Stokes, Mayme Strange, Michel Spira, and Mark Sherman.

Fun with String in San Francisco

On April 1 (9AM-5PM) and April 2 (10AM-1PM), 2006, a small but invigorating string figure gathering took place at Fort Mason in San Francisco. The meeting was organized by storyteller Ruth Stotter (see the September 2005 issue of our newsletter for details). The meeting was attended by a total of 35 participants, nearly half of which were current or former members of the ISFA (Anne Glover, Belinda Holbrook, Ned Holbrook, Fred Mindlin, Josh Lachman, David McDaniel, Karl Schaffer, Mark Sherman, Audrey Small, Tia Smirnoff, Mike Spiller, Ruth Stotter, David Titus, Cathy Traut-Hessom, Will and Lillie Wirt). Lori Lachance Murdoch King was unable to attend but sent a very generous $100 donation.

The meeting opened with slide presentations by Mark Sherman (on the history of the ISFA), Fred Mindlin (on the relationship between string figures and keyboarding), and Mike Spiller (on collecting and teaching traditional children’s games), who also entertained us with many amazing string tricks. Later we watched a videotape of storyteller David Novak performing his “Jack and the Beanstalk” string story. On Sunday Anne Glover entertained us with a lively French lesson accompanied by string figures, and a delightful presentation she devised for teaching simple string figures to 5-year-old children. On Sunday we were treated to an awesome presentation by math-dance guru Karl Schaffer, who directed ten audience members as they struggled to create huge three-dimensional solids using giant loops made from rope (the crowd burst into applause when a multi-faceted dodecahedron finally materialized).

Fort Mason turned out to be an excellent site. The meeting room was fancifully decorated with colorful fishnets, endearing posters, and informative displays of classic string figure books and articles from Ruth Stotter’s private collection. On the “store” table was an assortment of publications by Ruth Stotter, Belinda Holbrook, and the ISFA, plus videotapes and DVDs by David Titus and Anne Glover (10% of all sales were donated to the ISFA). The raffle featured a poster, a set of framed string figure postage stamps, a copy of Firth & Maude, and a new book by Frorath.

For workshops, teachers and students formed groups according to skill level (beginner, intermediate, and advanced) and moved to separate rooms where they could share their knowledge in a quiet setting. During lunch (sandwiches purchased from a local health food store), participants continued to exchange figures while Ruth entertained us with a talking puppet she had made by skillfully peeling a banana. On Saturday evening participants were treated to a seemingly endless parade of entrées at a famous restaurant on Washington Street in Chinatown.

Although short, the event was indeed a success. Everyone who attended came away with new figures, new friends, and new insights thanks to Ruth Stotter and her helpers. Dozens of photos from the event can be accessed from the “Photo Gallery” menu at Mike Spiller’s web site,

String Figure Exhibition in Japan

The INAX corporation of Japan recently announced that it will sponsor and host a major string figure exhibition from December 1, 2006 through August 24, 2007. The exhibit will open in Tokyo and eventually travel to Osaka and Nagoya. INAX, a 4-billion dollar company with over 5000 employees, manufactures high-tech toilets, bathtubs, and designer tiles. As a responsible “corporate citizen” their goal is to create and provide an aesthetically satisfying environment that is friendly to people and the earth. Toward that end, they regularly sponsor cultural exhibits that enhance the well-being of their employees and clients. The exhibits, offered free of charge to the public, are displayed in corporate galleries. For each exhibit a catalogue is printed and offered for sale. Since 1982 over 200 exhibits have been mounted, each accompanied by a catalogue.

In Japan, former ISFA director Hiroshi Noguchi has agreed to serve as a consultant, and long-time ISFA member Yukio Shishido has agreed to serve as editor of the exhibit catalogue. In the US, Mark Sherman has agreed to write an essay describing the achievements of the ISFA, and Will Wirt has agreed to supply photographs of contemporary tribal people making string figures. In addition to photographs, the exhibit will feature multimedia presentations (continuous slide shows, audio clips and video footage).

In Japan, most members of the general public still believe that only children (specifically Japanese children) make string figures, a misconception that Izumi Akiyama (senior executive officer and general manager of culture promotion department) wants to correct. She is hoping that the exhibit will not only show that string figures were once an element of oral cultures throughout the world, but will also show that string figures are still a viable contemporary activity of mankind (as documented by Will Wirt in his photographs and the ISFA in their publications).

To learn more about INAX visit their corporate website at For questions about the catalogue and the exhibit, contact Yukio Shishido at

Seek and you shall find

Anyone who subscribes to the string figure mailing list sponsored by the ISFA and Yahoo ( will no doubt recognize as the e-mail address belonging to Myriam Namolaru of Haifa, Israel, a member of the ISFA since 1999. For years she has been generously sharing links to interesting web sites that she encounters as she seeks to broaden her knowledge and understanding of string figures (even bomb-laden missiles falling from the sky have not deterred her!). Among her many postings are links to intriguing news articles, little-known photo collections, and vastly entertaining video clips.

Identifying new and novel string figure web sites is no easy task: anyone who googles “string figures” is faced with the daunting task of sifting through more than 71,700 hits. The equivalent search in French or Spanish returns additional hits. Patience (and time!) are definitely needed to evaluate the search results.

In addition to locating web sites created by others, Myriam also maintains her own web site called “Les Ficelles Enchantées” (Enchanted Strings), located at Frequent postings, mainly in French but also in English, include “String Figure of the Month” and French translations of ISFA’s String Figure Magazine. And if that’s not enough, stringers are also invited to visit her latest creation — a string figure website in Hebrew/English that took her a year to develop (

If you speak a language other than English and would like to share your knowledge of string figures in your native language, consider developing a web site like Myriam’s. These days, most e-mail accounts include a free personal website, so why not take advantage of it!

Lost and Found: Ken McCuaig

In her biography published in Bulletin of the ISFA vol. 9, Canadian author Camilla Gryski credits Ken McCuaig, whom she met at the Toronto Folk Festival in 1980, as being the person who introduced her to string figures. As Gryski fondly recalls, “He was accompanied by a ‘string band’ of children who were performing in the children’s play area.” Later she learned that he was a Professor of Anatomy in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, located just blocks from where she worked. Soon thereafter she began to have lunch with him on a regular basis: “He had this office in the basement full of skeletons, strange things in jars, and string figures mounted on all the walls...He had been doing string games since the 50s...For a long time I was learning figures from Ken, going to the library, making photocopies, and learning more new figures...Once I got into it, string figures started to multiply and grow exponentially as a hobby.”

So what ever happened to Professor McCuaig? In April we received a letter from him requesting membership and back issues. Upon receiving them he wrote “Well, I’ve finally gotten around to joining the ISFA. Since joining, I have spent many enjoyable hours printing old bulletins, perusing much of the recent bulletins, and working with the incredible gallery of descriptions in Jenness’s collection [posted at the isfa web site]. My dog-eared copy of Jenness with all my notes might have been useful input to this project if I had awakened earlier. My little group (100 members, mostly family), called “Artists in String Mississauga” in honour of Kathleen Haddon, held an annual convocation for many years. Now, after an interlude of many years (we lost our meeting place when U. of Toronto sold the farm) we are soon to hold our second biannual meeting [on August 12]. The TERMs for membership are:

Originally M stood for Monetary ($2 to cover the cost of a logo-imprinted T-shirt), but it has been decided that this final obligation for membership is not for sale. The service required is negotiated at the time of the Induction Ceremony.

The August 12 meeting did indeed take place, and Professor McCuaig was kind enough to send us a few pictures from the gathering. Professor McCuaig’s long-term interest in string figures is an inspiration to us all, and we look forward to hearing more of his anecdotes.

"Artists in String Mississauga" attendee proudly displaying 'Little Dog with Big Ears'

Last updated February 16, 2007
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