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Lillian Oppenheimer and Her Friends
The Beginnings of Organised Paperfolding in the West
Lillian Oppenheimer was a mother, a homemaker, an excellent cook and everybody's favourite grandmother. She had dynamic qualities which lay dormant during the first fifty years of her life and if she had been born in the mid twentieth century it is very probable that she would have shone in business or as a member of one of the professions. As it happened, she did create for herself a distinguished career in the second part of her long life of ninety-three years.
Lillian was out-and-out a New Yorker. She was born in New York on 24th October 1898, the child of a father who had immigrated from Poland. But her mother had herself been born in New York. All the branches of all her family had their roots in central and eastern Europe: in Austria, Hungary and Poland. Lillian's father was a merchant in furs and at the age of nineteen she was married to Joseph Kruskal, the son of another fur trader. Lillian and her husband were the parents of five children: three sons, William, (known as Bill), Martin David and Joseph, and two daughters, Rosaly and Molly. The Kruskal boys were all brilliant mathematicians, William and Martin becoming full professors. The two daughters, Rosaly and Molly lived more restrained lives. In later years all five children learnt to fold paper and Bill, Rosaly and Molly all played small, but significant, parts in the way the modern paperfolding movement came about.
In 1928 Molly was seven years old and fell seriously ill with meningitis. She had to undergo a serious operation which was followed by a long stay in hospital and a longer period of convalescence at home with frequent visits to the doctor. By chance, the now famous paperfolding book, "Fun with Paperfolding" by William D . Murray and Francis J. Rigney was new in the shops. The authors were both magicians. Rigney is said to have written the text while Rigney drew the illustrations, but in fact, both contributed to the content in the book. Rigney later became a friend of Martin Gardner, the writer of the column on recreational mathematics in the magazine "Scientific American". Martin Gardner was himself a magician who later gave wide publicity to paperfolding. "Fun with Paperfolding" was the first book in English to be published which was solely devoted to recreational paperfolding. It was reprinted by Dover Publications in 1960 with the amended title of "Paper Folding for Beginners" and remains in print today as "Fun with Paper Folding and Origami".
"Fun with Paperfolding" accompanied Lillian and Molly during all the tedious periods spent in the doctor's waiting room. They became familiar at least with the simpler models in the book but as we shall see, the more complicated models and in particular, the Flapping Bird, apparently eluded them, no doubt because of the somewhat difficult style of the instructions for folding the models. "Fun with Paperfolding" was written long before the now-familiar modern conventions for paperfolding diagrams were devised by Akira Yoshizawa, Robert Harbin and Samuel Randlett. But the book did become a firm favourite.
Eventually, Molly recovered and Murray and Rigney's book was put away and forgotten for many years. If Lillian had worked out how to fold the Flapping Bird from Murray and Rigney, she certainly forgot all about it. Indeed it seems apparent that paperfolding no longer featured in her life.
A glimpse of Lillian and her involvement with handicrafts twenty years later has been given by Florence Temko, known today as a prolific author of paperfolding and craft books. In 1948, Florence was a young G.I. bride from England, feeling lonely and struggling to bring up her little daughter in a strange country. Her husband became confined to hospital and when Florence visited him she met a warm-hearted lady, who was also visiting her sick husband and who took Florence under her wing. It was, of course, Lillian, who was visiting her first husband, Joseph Kruskal.
Again there were long periods of waiting and Lillian took Florence to the craft shop at the hospital, where they passed their time making woolly animals. They both took to the hobby and after their husbands had left hospital, they continued to make animals, which they found they were able to sell. Despite having to hire a baby-sitter, Florence was able to pay regular weekly visits to Lillian's home.
This comfortable arrangement continued until Joseph Kruskal died in 1950. From then onwards, Florence saw much less of Lillian. However, their friendship continued and they still met from time to time, often at the Russian Tea Room, then an ordinary restaurant and not yet the fashionable place it was later to become. As yet there was no hint of how the future would bring them together in a very different craft from making woolly toys.
It was not until twenty years or so after Molly was ill that Lillian again came across the Flapping Bird. Some time, possibly around 1950, (we do not know the date precisely) Lillian attended a party for members of the family. Martin David Kruskal's wife, Laura was present. Laura's mother had been widowed and had remarried. Her second husband, Isaac Kramer, was also at the party and his trick was the Flapping Bird. He sat all the time in a corner of the room folding the magical little birds for anyone who was interested, and most people were. Lillian was fascinated and she tried in vain to persuade Isaac to show her how to fold the bird. But he was not a teacher and somewhat surprisingly he said that while he could fold the Flapping Bird, it was quite beyond him to teach others to do it. Disappointed, Lillian could not forget the little bird and she left the party determined to find its secret. As she said it fluttered around in her heart.
Emily Rosenthal & Frieda Lourie
Lillian had a young cousin-by-marriage, Judy Oppenheimer, who had married the son of Harry C. Oppenheimer, one of the directors of the New School for Social Research in New York. (At this time Lillian did not know that she would one day marry Harry Oppenheimer.) The New School put on adult education classes and among them was a class in handicrafts using salvaged materials. The teacher was Emily Rosenthal who had trained in Germany as a teacher in the tradition of the Froebel kindergarten and had come to New York during the war as a refugee from the Nazis. The Froebel method of child education made use of paperfolding both as a way of teaching children geometry and also of encouraging artistic creativity, so Emily knew the rudiments of folding paper. Judy Oppenheimer signed on for Emily Rosenthal's classes and knowing that Lillian had time on her hands following the death of her husband. Judy persuaded Lillian to accompany her, just for something to do.
For Lillian, the classes became something much more important than a way of passing her time, for the instant that Emily Rosenthal taught the class how to fold the Flapping Bird. Lillian immediately recognised it as the model Laura Kruskal's step-father had folded at the family party. It was the Holy Grail that she had been searching for ever since and from then onwards, Lillian became a paper folder. She never stopped folding and it became for her the start of her new career.
Lillian's immediate reaction was to want more and she asked Emily Rosenthal to teach her other paper folds. Emily did not feel able to help and suggested that Lillian should seek help from Frieda Lourie who was another pupil at the New School.
Like Emily, Frieda Lourie was another Jewish refugee who had escaped from the Nazis when they occupied Austria in the Anschluss of 1936. Frieda was certainly enthusiastic about paperfolding, but her knowledge of it was limited and she could teach Lillian nothing that she did not already know. Together, however, the pair of them joined forces and became an enthusiastic team, searching out paperfolds wherever they could find them and in time, teaching them to whoever was willing to learn.
About this time, Lillian's son Bill Kruskal remembered the little book which had helped Molly's recovery so many years ago. Murray and Rigney was searched for and found and for a few years it became Lillian's and Frieda's manual of paperfolding.
The whole of Lillian's family became infected by Lillian's interest in paperfolding, including Bill's young son Tom. In his enthusiasm he folded fifty paper cups to give to each of his school friends. This small incident was something that made a profound impression on Lillian and she never forgot that paperfolding was something for sharing. For the rest of her life, sharing was at the heart of Lillian's paper-folding. In gratitude for the lesson she had learnt she gave up her precious copy of Murray and Rigney and sent it to Tom.
The next time Lillian met Florence Temko at the Russian Tea Room, Lillian folded for Florence the traditional, simple paper house. Florence was immediately hooked and became a member of Lillian's small group of paperfolding friends. For Florence, too, it was the start of a lifelong devotion to paperfolding and later, of the start of her career as a writer.
Harry C Oppenheimer
In 1954, about a year after she attended Emily Rosenthal's classes, Lillian's life underwent another dramatic change. She married Judy's father-in-law, Harry C. Oppenheimer. He was born on 29th April 1889 and the C stood for his unusual middle name of Centennial. The centenary alluded to was not that of American Independence, but that of the adoption of the Constitution of the United States.
Following her marriage, Lillian and Harry went to live in a penthouse apartment above the Hotel Irving at 26 Gramercy Park South, New York. Harry was in the clothing trade and specialised in lining materials. By all accounts he was very successful and his business took him on frequent trips around the United States and abroad and Lillian often accompanied him. She became a seasoned traveller but found she had to endure frequent waits in airport lounges and also in hotels while Harry was at meetings. It was during these interminable waits that Lillian discovered what an excellent pastime paperfolding was. It could be done any time and anywhere and the only material it required was ordinary paper. Harry was very supportive of Lillian's activities. They were a devoted couple and had many shared interests, especially making music together. But Lillian was free to develop her own interests in whatever way she wished. She became an amateur ventriloquist and later took up puppetry in addition to paperfolding.
For the time being paperfolding remained for Lillian and Frieda Lourie little more than a private hobby, but then something happened which came to Lillian as a revelation. Her son Bill, notwithstanding his august profession of mathematics (or perhaps because of it), had captured something of his mother's interest in paperfolding. He had a friend, Harry Daniels whom he had met during a period of study at the Statistics Department of Cambridge University in England. One day, while browsing in a bookshop, Harry came across a newly published book about paper-folding. He immediately thought about Bill's interest in the pastime and bought a copy, which he sent to Bill as a gift.
The importance of the book was immediately evident to Bill and he made every effort to obtain a copy for Lillian, eventually getting in touch with the publishers in England. The book was "Paper Magic" by Robert Harbin. Published in 1956, "Paper Magic" gave clear instructions for folding most of the traditional models known in the West at that time. It was also prefaced by a long introduction and an account of the history of paperfolding in Europe and Japan. There was also an analysis of basic folds used in paperfolding and an identification of some of the commonly used techniques such as squash folds, petal folds and rabbit ears. There was even a bibliography of paperfolding in several languages. This was the first time that anyone had written about paperfolding in such a comprehensive way. Robert Harbin had done much research of his own but he had been put in touch with another researcher, Gershon Legman, an American who had left the United States to live in the south of France. Gershon Legman had discovered much more of the Japanese and Spanish traditions of paperfolding than Robert Harbin. He had made contact with the then unknown Japanese genius, Akira Yoshizawa and with Dr. Vicente Solorzano and Señorita Ligia Montoya of Argentina. All of them were creating models of a much greater ingenuity than those being folded Britain and the United States. Gershon Legman enthusiastically shared his knowledge with Robert Harbin just in time for him to include some of the information in "Paper Magic".
"Paper Magic" immediately lifted Lillian's approach to paperfolding to another plane. It showed her that it was not just a pleasant hobby or children's pastime. It was also something with a fascinating history which extended throughout the world. It was no longer merely a pastime limited to a few traditional figures, but stood in its own right as a minor art-form which offered the opportunity for the creation of an infinite number of new models.
For the development of paperfolding itself, Lillian's discovery of "Paper Magic" was crucial because in her mind it was suddenly changed from being the pursuit of a few people folding in isolation in different parts of the world into a connected and vital movement. Akira Yoshizawa in Japan and Ligia Montoya in Argentine had explored new techniques of folding; Gershon Legman, had done extensive research; Robert Harbin had written the book. But without more, paperfolding might still have withered and relapsed into obscurity once more. Paperfolding required someone with the energy, enthusiasm and charisma needed to present it to the world for what it was now revealed to be. That person was Lillian Oppenheimer.
Lillian first received "Paper Magic" about the beginning of 1957. She immediately wrote to Robert Harbin and in the summer of that year she crossed the Atlantic to meet him in person. It helped that her daughter, Rosaly and her children lived in London. Lillian also went on to France to try to meet Gershon Legman, but he was away from his home. Nevertheless Lillian began to correspond with him and also with Akira Yoshizawa and Ligia Montoya, whom Gershon Legman had discovered. The horizons of paper-folding had suddenly increased immeasurably for Lillian and she could apply her talents on a much wider stage.
During this period Lillian became dissatisfied with the word, "paperfolding" which she felt was much too uninteresting and which she found people confused with other paper crafts. She needed a new distinctive name and at first considered the Chinese word for paperfolding, but she found it unattractive and difficult to pronounce. She turned instead to Japan where the Japanese word "origami", meaning "to fold paper" had come to be accepted in Japan since around 1900 as the Japanese word for recreational paperfolding. "Origami" had later been used in the titles of one or two articles and books in English produced in Japan. One of these which was published in 1950 was a picture book by Mme Claude Sarasas. It had Japanese, English and French headings and was called "The ABCs of Origami". With great difficulty, Lillian had obtained a copy of this book from Japan and it quickly became one of her favourite paperfolding books, which she carried around with her everywhere.
The word "origami" was also mentioned as the Japanese word for paperfolding in Robert Harbin's book, "Paper Magic" in 1956 and this book, too, became a favourite of Lillian's. After making further enquiries, Lillian made a deliberate decision to adopt the Japanese word "Origami" instead of "paperfolding". At the same time, the word "Origami" appeared in the titles of several books in English by Japanese authors that were just beginning to appear in the United States and Europe. Nevertheless, it was this deliberate decision of Lillian's and the subsequent formation by her of the Origami Center that ensured the acceptance a new word into the English language and in turn to most other European and many other languages. It was to stand Lillian in good stead and became a rallying flag for new developments in the pastime that were to come sooner than she ever expected.
Lillian Oppenheimer & Frieda Lourie in partnership
As a result of their acquisition of "Paper Magic" Lillian and Frieda were fired with renewed enthusiasm to learn more about the art of paperfolding and to teach it to anyone who would learn. It is most unfortunate that because Frieda Lourie lived for only a short time after the foundation of the Origami Center in October 1958 her name and the important contribution she made has largely been forgotten. But in 1957 and 1958 she was very much an equal partner in paperfolding with Lillian. Frieda had lived a difficult life. She had married and had children but had subsequently been divorced. Little is known about her before she came to the United States. Born in Austria, she had trained as an occupational therapist, but was compelled to leave when the Nazis seized Austria. Coming to the United States, she found that her Austrian professional qualifications were not recognised, but she managed, nevertheless, to get a job at the Bellevue Hospital, where she began to use Origami as a therapy for patients. It was here that she met Robert Neale who was a chaplain at the hospital. He was another magician who was inspired to become a paperfolder and he, too, soon became a friend of Lillian.
Lillian was interested in paperfolding as a hobby, and in teaching it to whoever might show interest. Her approach was to establish contact with other folders and to build up an increasing body of knowledge about the subject. Frieda, on the other hand was primarily interested in using paperfolding as an adjunct to her professional work at the hospital as a therapy for the sick and handicapped. In fact, her work began in the hospital. Frieda's most thrilling moment was when she taught a folded paper dog to a girl who, although a teenager, remained incapable of speech. As she completed the folded dog, the girl triumphantly exclaimed: "I made it!". They were the first words she had spoken during her life.
Under Frieda's initiative, she and Lillian started to go out teaching Origami to everyone who was interested enough to learn. They taught the Red Cross, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts groups and residents of old people's homes. The scope was boundless. Frieda decided to make teaching Origami a professional venture. While she retained her position at Bellevue Hospital she acquired a studio in which she could live and at which she could also hold lessons. Her studio was in the Hotel Irving in Gramercy Square, where Lillian and Harry had their penthouse suite. Lillian has told how after breakfast, Frieda would frequently come up to visit her and together they would fold models from Murray and Rigney's book. Together they went out teaching paperfolding wherever there was someone who was willing to learn.
In some ways, Frieda was more dynamic than Lillian. She was all for going out to seek publicity by contacting newspapers; she set her eyes on television and wanted to approach a local museum. In contrast, Lillian held back. She shrewdly considered that when the time was right, the newspapers, television and museums would approach them; the impact would be much greater than if they went too early asking for publicity. Later events showed just how right was Lillian's judgement. Nevertheless, Frieda did manage to get an interview on local radio at Hartford, Connecticut.
Then Frieda learned about "Hokubei Shimpo", an English-language newspaper for expatriate Japanese living in New York. This seemed to her to offer another good opportunity for publicity and she went to see the editor, Tooru Kanazawa. Mr. Kanazawa had been born in the United States, not Japan, and he knew nothing about paperfolding. But he was fascinated by what Frieda showed him and he arranged to visit Lillian. She gave him ample information and clearly succeeded in passing on to him her enthusiasm. The result was that Tooru Kanazawa personally wrote not less than three successive articles about Origami in successive issues of Hokubei Shimpo in May and June 1958. Even so, they were not without disappointment for Lillian and Frieda. At their request, the articles contained a note that anyone interested in paperfolding should get in touch with them at the Hotel Irving. They eagerly awaited a response but there was not a single enquiry! It was suggested that such an approach would be contrary to the nature of the newspaper's readers, who were mainly Japanese.
Through her interest in music, Lillian counted among her closest friends, Sylvia Rabinoff, who was a concert pianist and Benno, her husband, who was a violinist. They toured the concert halls together. Sylvia and Benno happened to be acquainted with a reporter from the New York Times. Everyone in New York was familiar with the newspaper's column "About New York", which was written by Meyer Berger, the distinguished journalist, who was a winner of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Perhaps Sylvia and Benno's friend could persuade him to write something about Origami in his column! In keeping with her previous attitudes, Lillian was initially reluctant, but eventually she let Sylvia's journalist friend have copies of the articles from Hokubei Shimpo to pass on to Meyer Berger. Sure enough, but much to her surprise, Lillian soon received a telephone call from Meyer Berger, himself. Here at last was the press coming to her! Immediately changing her attitude, she seized the opportunity and tempted Meyer Berger by asking him if he had ever seen the Flapping Bird. He came to see her that same night.
Lillian poured out everything she knew about Origami and her persuasive charm had its desired effect. Meyer Berger, the experienced reporter was genuinely impressed by Lillian's shining enthusiasm. He made notes as she talked and when he departed it was with the words that he would send a photographer to take her picture.
Meyer Berger's article is now famous. It was printed in the New York Times on 27th June 1958 and looking back, we can see that it was the real start of what was to become the Origami Center. It was not a very long article, but it succeeded in communicating the liveliness and magic of Origami. It mentioned some of the world's enthusiasts including Ligia Montoya, Gershon Legman, Robert Harbin and Akira Yoshizawa. There was even a mention of Thoki Yenn of Denmark, then scarcely known at all, but whom Lillian had sought out during one of her visits to Europe. He was accurately described as being unorthodox because his art was then paper-cutting, but the mention was prophetic of Thoki Yenn's future achievements as a pure paperfolder. But perhaps the secret of Meyer Berger's article was that it was not merely a list of static creations, but it succeeded in communicating the joy of Lillian's favourite action models including the Jumping Frog, the bird that picks up pellets with its beak and, of course, the Flapping Bird.
The response was astonishing. Enquiries came in from people all over New York and beyond. But what was more surprising was that the television magazine programmes picked up Lillian and her Origami with alacrity. She found herself being interviewed on the Jack Parr Show and suddenly she was a celebrity. All the other television programmes vied with each other to interview her. Never could Lillian have expected such publicity for Origami and all of it was free! The response from the public was almost overwhelming. Enquiries came, too, from outside New York and people began to ask for lessons. Paperfolding suddenly exploded and the catalyst was Lillian Oppenheimer.
That might have been the end of the story, but Lillian now showed her outstanding abilities which had lain dormant for so many years of her life. She seized the chance of the publicity which had so suddenly and gratuitously been offered to her and used it to build a permanent and widespread movement for paperfolding. Lillian already had visions of forming some sort of organisation. One of her ideas had been to form a branch of Akira Yoshizawa's International Paper-Folding Friendship Society (as it was then known). Her opportunity came when she heard about the Japan Society in New York. They had their own auditorium and Lillian obtained permission to use it for the purpose of presenting a series of lessons. By now, many people were in contact with Lillian who were keen to learn. Meyer Berger again came to the help by announcing the forthcoming series of classes in "About New York". Lillian had obviously made a big impression on him and had received her reward.
The first class was held at the auditorium of the Japan Center on the afternoon of 6th October, 1956. and was attended by twenty-five people. Florence Temko, Frieda Lourie and Emily Rosenthal were all present. So were Sylvia and Benno Rabinoff and many other people who became familiar members of the Origami Center. Such was the demand that Lillian also arranged separate a class to take place on Tuesday afternoons. She called her venture "The Origami Center". While, no doubt, Lillian was intending this to be some sort of permanent organisation, it seems that she did not envisage the lessons themselves as being anything more than a temporary series. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the series, Lillian's pupils insisted that the classes should continue. After Lillian's subsequent visit to Europe and Japan in the spring of 1959, monthly meetings on Monday evenings were resumed at the Japan Center until difficulties arose over access. They then continued at a nearby church before settling down for many years in Lillian's home. The Tuesday afternoon sessions were also continued, but they were always held at Lillian's apartment.
To provide a link for those unable to attend the classes, Lillian produced a newsletter. Sylvia Rabinoff suggested that she should name it "The Origamian", in an allusion to the name of another famous paper named "The Oregonian". The initial series of newsletters, which were no more than stencilled sheets, ran to five editions. To read them today is to capture vividly the excitement of the early days of the Origami Center and of Lillian's enthusiasm. All this time, Frieda Lourie took part, not only continuing her own lessons, but also taking part in the classes of the Origami Center. But she was now playing second string and Lillian was firmly the leader of Origami in New York.
Perhaps more important than either of these ventures, Lillian managed to cope with her enormous correspondence, now vastly increased as a result of the television publicity. To help enthusiasts she began to obtain books on paperfolding for them and eventually this developed into a full mail-order business.
The last of the initial series of classes of the Origami Center took place in March 1959 and the final issue of the first series of the Origamian was issued at the same time. It announced that Lillian would be going on a world tour, the highlight of which was to be a meeting with Akira Yoshizawa in Japan. It gave the news that Frieda Lourie had achieved another of her ambitions by presenting a programme on television. But the same issue sadly announced the death of Meyer Berger, who had been so important in helping to bring about the birth of the Origami Center in his article which had been published only nine months earlier.
Looking to the future, the Cooper Union Museum of New York was already planning an exhibition about all aspects of paperfolding, historical, mathematical and recreational, to open the following May. They had approached Lillian and she had agreed to contribute exhibits for the section devoted to recreational paperfolding or Origami. It was just as she had forecast: as soon as Origami was mentioned in the newspapers, the museums had become interested. But this was no local museum. The Cooper Union Museum was the foremost museum in the United States dedicated to the decorative arts. (It was later to be reconstituted and become the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and part of the Smithsonian Institution.)
No sooner had graduation day at the "Origami Center" arrived than Lillian and Harry set out on their world trip. They made an extensive tour of Europe, but the highlight of their tour was undoubtedly Lillian's meeting with Akira Yoshizawa. Mr. Yoshizawa, who had emerged from obscurity only seven years earlier, was overwhelmed to find that he was at the centre of international attention. Advance notice of Lillian's arrival had been received and someone (it is not recorded who), organised an impressive welcoming reception. The meeting was the centre of intense interest from the press and Lillian and Akira Yoshizawa were shown that night on Japanese television.
Lillian and Harry looked forward to several exciting days in Japan. But that first night, with the excitement of their arrival still in their minds, Lillian received the unexpected news that her brother, a doctor, had died. She and Harry felt compelled catch the next flight home to New York immediately. After flying over the dismal wastes of the Arctic they went straight to the funeral without calling at home first. Then yet another terrible shock was in store for them. When eventually they returned home to the Hotel Irving at Gramercy Park they were met with the bitter news that Frieda Lourie had died that same morning which she had fallen from the roof of the hotel. It was typical of Lillian that she reproached herself for not calling home before the funeral, feeling that had she done so, the tragedy might not have happened.
Not even the double tragedy could conquer Lillian's spirit. While she had been away, the Cooper Union Museum had gone on with the organisation of the proposed exhibition of paperfolding. It was under the supervision of Edward Kallop and it was decided to call it "Plane Geometry and Fancy Figures". Edward Kallop himself did research into the history of paperfolding and his essay was printed as the introduction to the catalogue of the exhibition. (Samuel Randlett later reproduced the introduction in his book, "The Art of Origami" which was published in 1961.) Lillian collected together numerous exhibits for the part of the exhibition devoted to Origami. The focus was inevitably to be the incomparable art of Akira Yoshizawa. Gershon Legman sent to New York the precious models which Yoshizawa had sent him for the exhibition which had taken place in Amsterdam in the summer of 1955, and Mr. Yoshizawa sent more models direct. The exhibition also gathered together the work of isolated folders from the United States and the rest of the world whom Lillian's enthusiasm had flushed out of obscurity. The museum itself collected much very interesting material on the history and mathematics of paperfolding. By the time of the exhibition, Lillian had overcome the loss of her brother and Frieda and entered fully into the opening ceremonies. "Plane Geometry and Fancy Figures" set the seal of approval of the artistic and academic world on paperfolding both as an art form and as a mathematical study. The exhibition summarised what had gone before and marked the beginning of a golden era of paperfolding in the United States. What happened afterwards was a new chapter in the history of Origami and a golden age of Western paperfolding.
The most important part of Lillian's work had now been achieved: Origami was now in its own right a recognised pursuit - even an art form. Lillian had given birth to the Origami Center, in due course, the focus of the now familiar complex of activities which is characteristic of every Origami society: the meetings, library, bookshop, magazine, exhibitions and teaching. But the Origami Center had no formal organisation; it had adherents, but no enrolled membership; it had devoted workers, but no appointed officers. To be a friend of Lillian's was to be a member and it was Lillian's warm friendship and generosity that held the whole thing together. A more formal organisation would come in the future and with it more friends, many of them from distant lands overseas. But that was in the future. With the Cooper Union Museum Exhibition, we can pause to look back at the miracle that Lillian had achieved.
The creation of the Origami Center to act as a focus quickly gave rise to a new school of creative folding in America: Jack Skillman, George Rhoads, James Sakoda and Robert Neale, later joined by Sam Randlett, Neal Elias and Fred Rohm and, visiting the United States from overseas, Giuseppe Baggi and Adolfo Cerceda. Together they made a sparkling constellation, all sharing a friendship with Lillian. They shared their ideas and their models and their only rivalry was in their creative achievement. The first written fruit of the golden age was Sam Randlett's book, "The Art of Origami" which was published in the United States in 1961. It gave prominence to Lillian Oppenheimer and the Origami Center, with full details of Lillian's address. And it stimulated yet more enquiries from far and wide.
Perhaps Lillian was lucky to be in the right position at the right time. She certainly seized the opportunity when it came, and when she was invited to appear so many times on television. Lillian had the persistence not only to found the Origami Center, but also to keep it going, while at the same time conducting a staggering amount of correspondence and answering enquiries from all over the world. She was generous with her time, her industry and her friendship. She was no less generous when it came to finance, but we shall never know just how generous, for that was her own secret.
Lillian never forgot the lesson in sharing Origami which she learnt from her young grandson, Tom, when, in all his childish innocence he folded fifty paper cups to share with the members of his class at school. The idea of sharing imbued the whole of her approach to Origami and set the keynote for paperfolders to follow throughout the world. Origami would not have been the same without Lillian Oppenheimer, if, indeed, the modern movement could ever have come into being at all. She shared Origami, she shared her friendship and she shared herself. We shall all keep Lillian in our hearts as long as there is paper to fold.
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