This afternoon I spent a lovely couple of hours folding paper with people I barely know. I had organized an origami workshop at the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden today as part of the garden’s last Open Day of the year. The idea was to offer a relaxing afternoon to people who might be a little overwhelmed by the Holiday season. Very few people attended the origami workshop – about five kids and maybe ten adults – but one group stayed for almost two hours, folding foxes, rabbits and cat faces. The workshop was surprisingly therapeutic.
Today, I stopped by the Boise Art Museum, which is hosting my Folding Paper origami exhibition. At the front desk, I met a friendly volunteer called John who was reading something very secretively under his desk. It turned out to be the Folding Paper catalog. He was a docent and wanted to learn all about the exhibition before he had to take visitors through it. I was tickled of course to find someone reading one of my publications so sneakily! I wandered around the other galleries exploring their other temporary exhibitions, which were beautifully laid out and showed a definite emphasis on material and craftsmanship. I really understood why they had been so keen to take this exhibition. I felt very impressed and honored to have an exhibition in this thoughtfully curated museum.
For My Daily Giveaway, I don’t usually give away money. I’ve only done so once this year after the earthquake hit Nepal where my brother was staying. Today, I was inspired to make a financial gift after spending much of the day working on an essay for my book about contemporary origami artists. The artist I was writing about is Bernie Peyton, one of my favorite artists as a person and as an artistic innovator. His origami depictions of animals and plants push origami into the realm of mixed media sculptures. One of his works, depicting a frog on a leaf is one of my favorite works in the exhibition Folding Paper I curated a few years back.
One of the reasons I find Bernie and his origami so fascinating is that he approaches his creations as both an artist and a scientist. In his twenties he was actually working as an artist, but when his college roommate took him off on a 900-mile canoeing trip through the wilderness, he was so profoundly moved by watching the white wolves following them along the river, that he decided he wanted to save nature and retrained as a wildlife biologist! For 25 years he worked with wild animals, in particular the spectacled bear in Peru, and then just over a decade ago, he left that career to devote himself to art again, and specifically origami. The frogs, lizards, birds and other creatures that he has been folding out of paper are not only highly expressive but they are often shown behaving as they would in the wild, something only attainable by someone who has truly watched and studied them.
For the last few years, since I have been working with origami artists, I have given a lot of thought to folding. In traditional origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, a sheet of paper (usually a square) is folded into forms including animals, birds and countless inanimate objects. Although much of my recent curatorial work has had the goal of demonstrating how global the art of paper folding is, I have been increasingly convinced that there is something deeply Japanese about folding.
Our son Theo played in his first ever game of soccer this afternoon, a very sweaty experience in a heat wave on Astroturf. Mercifully, the day was strangely cloudy and humid, bringing the temperature down to the upper 80s, so the coaches, parents and kids were somewhat relieved. For much of the game, Theo and the other boys who were playing for the first time seemed unsure if where to put themselves, and just ran around generally close to where the ball was doing their best to stop the other team, who seemed much more experienced, from making every goal they attempted. The final score was brutal, but nobody pretended our team hadn’t lost, as they often do in kids’ sports. Usually, there’s no official scorekeeping and all the players get trophies at the end. The boys took their loss well and realized they have a lot of work to do for their next games.
Today was my son Theo’s last day of 4th grade. It hasn’t been his easiest year, as he was unsure about his friendships at the start and struggled with aspects of his work throughout the year. However, mostly thanks to his main teacher, Mrs. Chan (mentioned in my January 12 blog), who was firm and encouraging throughout the year, he managed to end the year well with a decent report card and a certificate that read “Best Improvement in Attitude.” He also seems to have found himself socially and has a good group of friends. Perhaps because it was such a challenging year and has ended better than I had imagined, I got very emotional today as I thanked his teachers and wished fellow parents a good summer.
In particular, I wanted to thank Mrs. Chan, and I gave her some bracelets that I actually purchased especially for her, something I haven’t been doing much of this year. However, I also wanted to give her something of mine that would be meaningful and perhaps useful to her in her future classes. Because she had let me teach her class origami a couple of times during the year, I gave her the book Origami Magic by Florence Temko, one of the great pioneers of origami in the United States in the second half of the 20th century. I came to know of her when I was planning my first exhibition of contemporary origami art, Folding Paper, a few years ago. Temko was a great educator and author on the subject, writing over 55 books on the subject and helping to make the art of paper folding hugely popular in this country. The book contains many great designs, explained at the right level for Mrs. Chan to use with her students next year. I love the idea that the knowledge acquired by one skillful teacher and can be passed along by another.
I will miss working with and learning from Theo’s kind and talented teacher, but like Theo, I have to accept this change and move on through another summer and onto all the challenges that await us in the coming school year.
For almost five years, I have been fascinated by the work of contemporary origami artists. These scientists, mathematicians and visual poets have taken sheets of paper and folded them into breathtaking works of art. Although I was aware that origami has become increasingly sophisticated over the years, I wasn’t aware of the complexity, advanced aestheticism and range of styles in origami art until I watched Vanessa Gould’s superb documentary Between the Folds in April 2010. Since then, I have made it one of my professional goals to promote the works of the world’s finest origami artists as art worthy of museum display and collection. The first origami exhibition I curated was Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami, which features the work of 45 artists of all different styles, has been travelling the U.S.A since 2012 and is now in Florida, I believe. My new exhibition, Above the Fold: New Expressions in Origami, opened today at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, Massachusetts, very far from where I am sitting now (http://www.springfieldmuseums.org/the_museums/fine_arts/). I am sad not to see it yet (it will come to Los Angeles eventually), but am thrilled that the exhibition will allow visitors to see some truly groundbreaking sculptures and installations by nine of the world’s most creative paper folders. I am even more thrilled that the exhibition received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, who had chosen not to fund the previous exhibition in part because they didn’t think that origami was really art. They appear to have been convinced.
In celebration of the opening of this exhibition, I have sent a gift to one of my favorite companions in my origami adventure, Margalit, who worked for the traveling exhibitions company that is touring my two exhibitions. She loved the idea of an origami exhibition from our first conversation, and once we finally decided to develop the exhibition together (4 years ago yesterday!), she was a passionate, thoughtful and encouraging partner in what was a very complicated endeavor (remember, 45 artists were involved, and we produced a catalog!). When I suggested a second exhibition, she was equally as enthusiastic and helpful in its development, and although she is no longer with the traveling exhibitions company, she nurtured it with me until it was ready to travel. When I was researching for the first exhibition, I attended the Origami USA Convention in New York and was given two exquisite origami brooches – a turtle and a lizard, both intricately folded out of beautiful Japanese paper. The lizard is now on its way to Margalit as a gift of gratitude for her confidence in the exhibitions, patience with the details, and her friendship.
Some people we meet inspire us to change things about ourselves. My good friend Cheryl is one of those people for me. I met her first as my chiropractor. I had some problems with my lower back and over the course of several visits, she was able to make some adjustments to my spine to align my vertebrae again and relieve my pain. But it was the adjustments she made to my head that have been more lasting. One of the busiest people I know, Cheryl not only built a successful career as a chiropractor but has spend a life of activism, protesting wars and unfair political or social practices, marched for women’s rights, feeding the homeless during the holidays, planting gardens in blighted spots in the neighborhood, counting whales for an international census, and pushing local businesses to consider their impact on the environment. One day when I was ranting to her about how much I hate Styrofoam, she invited me to join the green committee she had established for the local Chamber of Commerce. As part of this group, I was able to work with other people like her who not only got upset about environmental destruction and waste but also tried to change people’s attitudes and behavior. At first I felt I had nothing to contribute to such a group, but with encouragement from Cheryl and the others, I joined them campaigning against plastic bags, organizing Earth Day events and teaching kids at my son’s school the importance of recycling their lunch trash. Thanks to her inspiration, I plucked up the courage to run a series of programs on sustainable living at the local library and write a green column for the local paper, all of which contributed to my desire to write this blog.
Cheryl also loves art and a few years ago shared with our family an amazing documentary film, Between the Folds, which spotlights the work of several contemporary origami artists. I watched in awe and immediately wanted to curate an exhibition of these artists’ work. My first traveling origami exhibition, Folding Paper, opened in 2012 and is still traveling around the US, and my second Above the Fold, opens this month. So what to give to someone who has inspired my professional and volunteer life so much in the past decade? Well, like me, Cheryl loves art, origami and books and hates waste, so I decided to give her my copy of Trash Origami, one of the many wonderful origami instruction books by Michael G. LaFosse and Richard L. Alexander. The book explains how to recycle waste such as gum wrappers, junk mail and cardboard boxes into butterflies, gift boxes and board games. As she folds her trash into beautiful works of art, I hope Cheryl takes a moment to realize that she has been a terrific model to others of how not to waste a life.