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David Lister on himself

It was a shock and a great disappointment to hear the sad news of David Lister's passing. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but he was one of the first origami artists I conversed with, and he had a lot to say!

In the Spring of 2004 when I was studying Fine Arts at Endicott College, sent an email survey out to gain a depth of understanding on origami professionals. I received replies from David Lister of course, Yuri and Katrin Shumakov, Joseph Wu, Deiby, Draggo, Carlos A. Furuti, Olivier Boisard, Bill Bankwitz, Eric Anderson,Jennifer Winter, Steve Watson and Michael LaFosse.

Lisa Corfman

David Lister wrote me the longest reply, by far, which I greatly appreciated. Here is what he had to say:

Thank you for your e-mail received this morning. I'm flattered that anyone should be interested in me, so I will try to answer your questions.

1. How old were you when you first started making origami?

Very young: perhaps three or four. My parents showed me the simple hat that turns into a ship with a sail and it fascinated me. I later learnt gliders (the swallow) and darts and gradually built up a very small collection of such models as I could find.

When I was aged about thirteen I found the flapping bird in a one-volume encyclopaedia belonging to and uncle. That was a most significant event in my paperfolding career! From then on my life was devoted to folding flapping birds and seeking out more models. But new models were very elusive.

 2. Who inspired you and how?

Nobody inspired me (apart from the few people who merely showed me models they knew). Discovery of the Flapping Bird made the greatest impact on me. I like to think that I discovered paperfolding for myself: this curious craft where a piece of paper can be folded into a diverse number of models and then unfolded to revert to the original uncut piece of paper.

 3. What is your favorite origami piece? Why?

I am most attracted to simple models and among my favourites are Yoshizawa's Butterfly and Toshie Takahama's Yacht using just five simple folds.

Other models I like are the Flapping Bird (obviously) and the Chinese Junk. But I tend to divide models between traditional models which were knothat is since Akira Yoshizawa's insistence on creative origami has prevailed. There are many, many created models that I admire, but usually I think of the whole work of individual folders such as Yoshizawa, Neal Elias, Fred Rohm, Yoshihide Momotani, David Brill, Robert Lang, Paul Jackson or Eric Joisel. One particular models that has always fascinated me as being the ultimate in box-pleating is Robert Lang's "Black Forest Cuckoo Clock". (A photograph can be seen in "Origami Masterworks", the book of the origami exhibition at the Mingei Museum in San Diego, last year.) If you want to see the extremes of complex folding, look at the models included in "Origami Tnteidan", the magazine of the Japanese Origami Art Society. But I do not admire complexity merely for the sake of complexity. The world of origami is now so diverse that it is not possible to represent it in the ideas of only one folder or even one group of folders.


4. When did you know origami was your talent?

Origami is not my talent. To be honest, I am a terrible folder and haven't a spark of creativity in me. My talent is in identifying the nature of origami and the diverse trends it takes. From the mid 1950s, I found I was interested in the history and origins of this remarkable craft. I began to accumulate books and papers that threw light on it and I tried to work out what had happened. My first writing on the subject was an article on "Paperfolding in Japan" that I wrote for one of the portfolios of the Origami Portfolio Society (the predecessor of the British Origami Society) in 1965. By then I knew my talent was origami history and not actual folding. I also try to build up a comprehensive overview of the whole of origami in its different forms. transformations and categories, including origami in education and therapy the mathematics of origami, modular folding, tessellations and other different techniques which are involved in it

 5. What was your biggest challenge?

Disciplining myself to write things down. Seeking out the information has always been pleasurable, but organising that knowledge and putting it down on paper (or in the computer) is more difficult. I have written articles for "British Origami" the magazine of the British Origami Society, but my main encouragement came when I joined FOLD which was a private collaborative magazine limited to twenty members. Each member made a contribution every two months. The contributions were put together and distributed only to the members. I wrote articles on origami history. FOLD has now folded, but a daughter group called IMAGIRO still exists. Several prominent folders belong to it. After FOLD folded, the Internet came along and I subscribed to the Origami List (Origami-L). Most of my more recent articles have been shorter and have been written off-the-cuff for Origami-L. These are the articles (complete with errors and typos) which you have read on the BOS web site.

 Please share any other relative information.

I am now aged 73, so I am a member of an older generation. At university I studied history, but I became a lawyer for the rest of my working life. History and law gave me the some of the disciplines for objective research into origami.

Over the years I have corresponded with or met many of the leading folders in Eurorpe, the United States and Japan and count many of them as personal friends. I have been interested in paperfolding for all of my life and I have certainly found it an enriching experience. But it is by no means the only subject I am interested in. Among my other intersts are heraldry and flags, Arthurian literature and history, various aspects of folklore, string figures, knots and fabric structures, recreational mathematics, the history of painting and architecute and natural history. Even Chinese ceramics! I often find linkages between different subjects which illuminate both. Because of Origami, I have travelled widely in Europe and have also visited the United States on three occasions and Japan twice. I have felt particularly rewarded by the introduction to Japanese civilisation that Origami has given me.

I think that my active studies into paperfolding started in 1953, when I paid an afternoon visit with my future wife to see her aunt. The aunt had also invited a young actor from the local theatre and he was able to show me the Chinese Junk, a model that I had been looking for many years but without success. I then decided that there must be books on this curious subject in which paper was folded without cutting it and I started looking for them. Books on paperfolding did, indeed exist, but they didn't come my way at that time. In 1955 I caught a glimpse of Robert Harbin folding a four-legged container (a sanbo) on BBC children's television and very soon after, found there was paperfolding in the Rupert Annuals written for the Daily Express by Alfred Bestall. And in one of them I found the four-legged container demonstrated by Robert Harbin.

The first book I found was Maying Soong's "The Art of Chinese Paperfolding", which I came across in Harrod's, the London department store in April 1965. Then, two years later, I found Robert Harbin's "Paper Magic" in a local bookshop, two years after it had been published.. I wrote to Robert Harbin and ultimately, in 1964, I wrote to Lillian Oppenheimer. In April 1965, Lillian put a small group of British people, who had written to her, in touch with each other. In August 1965, we formed the Origami Portfolio Society. In April 1966 we met both Lillian and Robert Harbin at the home of Lillian's daughter Rosaly Evnine who lived in London. Then in October, 1967, this small group became the British Origami Society. By now, the modern origami movement was well on its way. Since then I have been closely involved with the British Origami Society, and at different times I have been the chairman and the president. But I am also a member of several other societies around the world and receive their magazines.

I have always been an avid buyer of books and now have a large personal library. I estimate that my origami library contains some 4000 items. Sadly, it is too big for our house! What will come of it when I have shuffled off my mortal coil, I have no idea.

Once I get started, I do not find it at all difficult to write. What I intend to be short postings to Origami-L tend to develop into full-length treatises. I hope that people may find them interesting, but usually my postings meet with a deafening silence! What I should like to do is to write a comprehensive history of origami. But whether any publisher would ever take it up is another matter.

If you have followed me this far, thank you for your patience. I'm sorry to inflict so much on you, but you did ask!

 Best wishes,

David Lister

Grimsby, England



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