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On Philip Shen

From an email to Kathy Knapp.

Dear Kathy, Thank you very much for forwarding Joanne Ortman’s e-mail to Malachy Shaw-Jones, telling about a memory of Kitty Costikyan and Philip Shen. As you said, it would begin to make sense as I read on, but I have to admit that I found it somewhat confusing and I had to read it several times to make out what it was all about. Nevertheless, I have persevered and I can make out most of what Joanne is saying. I will be writing direct to Joanne in appreciation of her e-mail. I have known Joanne for a long time. Like me she was a member of FOLD and we shared articles (and in her case the newsletter "Manifold") over many issues. Through this I came to know of the activities of CHAOS (The Chicago Area Origami Society, which often met at the offices of Magic. Inc. I still exchange e-mails with her occasionally. I met her when she visited England for a convention of the British Origami Society many years ago. Then she suffered a stroke and it took a long time for her to be able to communicate again. But she did keep in touch. She has done remarkably well, seeing that she can only type one-handed.. I don’t know Kitty Costikyan, Robert Smith, Nancy, Kazuo Kubota or her husband Ryo.

But I did know Philip Shen. He often visited England, breaking his journeys from the United States (especially the Chicago area, where I knew he was friendly with Sam Randlett.) and Hong Kong, where he was a professor at the Chinese University there. Sometimes special meetings were arranged in the London area for members of the BOS to meet Philip. I remember the last occasion I met Philip. He visited England because his son was working in this country, some twenty of us met him and he showed us several of his models. I particularly remember him showing us his Waterbomb with his improved lock. I remember it because it was quite simple and yet very effective. It was surprising that no-one had discovered the trick before.

I buy all BOB Booklets on issue, but I regret that I don’t always read through them at once. I had wholly forgotten Boaz Shuvals’s booklet, "Philip Shen: More Geometric Paperfolds Booklet no. 70) which was issued in 2008 and I am grateful to be reminded of it and that it contains "Shen’s Waterbomb Lock". Although I sat with Philip when he demonstrated his lock, I have found it difficult to remember, so I’m very grateful that he has diagrammed it in his booklet. A previous collection of "Philip Shen: Selected Geometric Paper Folds" (booklet 18) was issued by Paul Jackson (Booklet 18) in 1982 so that we may be grateful that we have at least a representative selection of Phil Shen’s remarkable creations. In the introduction to the booklet, Boaz gives special thanks to Joanne for providing the video containing Shen’s lock, from which he was able to prepare the diagrams.

In summary, it appears that Kasuko arranged an origami picnic to which Philip Shen was invited. Kitty Costikyan and her husband brought with them a video camera, which they used to record Philip and his folding, including (including his Waterbomb Lock) They gave a cop of the video to Joanne Ortman. Through FOLD, Arnold Tubis, who was a member and who had recently retired to California learnt about the existence of the video. On moving to California from Israel, Boaz Shuval had hoped to get in touch with Philip Shen, but found he had recently died. Boaz was in touch with Arnold and Arnold remembered the video. So he arranged with Joanne to make a DVD from the video for Boaz. From the DVD Boaz learnt Shen’ Waterbomb Lock, which he was able to diagram this fold to include in his for his BOS booklet on Shen’s folding. That’s quite a complicated story! I hope I’ve worked it out right.

Since I last wrote to you, weather has continued to dominate life. After a December of remarkably low temperatures which destroyed many less hard plants, the weather in the east and south-east of England turned very dry and this has continued. Farmers are desperate for water - their crops are dying. We ourselves have to water the garden regularly. It appears to be caused by a curious kink in the jets stream (whatever that means!) But despite the difficulties, today is a wonderful summer’s day, so we have some compensations.

Among the things I am doing at present is studying Chinese paperfolding and I have found some old files that contain a remarkable amount of information. Philip Shen, at one time said that he was unable to find much folding from mainland China. However, it seems that later, he did pick up some folds from his students. I wonder where, if anywhere, he recorded these. Does his widow retain his origami notes? They would be very useful for my own studies. Once again, thank you very much for thinking of me and sending me a very interesting e-mail from Joanne.

Very best wishes,

David Lister
June 2, 2011


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