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BOS is 50


Florence Temko (left) with Lillian OppenheimerOrigami Recollections

by Florence Temko

My Personal Fascination with Origami
Lillian Oppenheimer
Cooper Union Museum Exhibit 1959
" Paper Magic" and Circulating Portfolio
New York World's Fair, 1965
Creating New Models
Temko Model Collection
Mingei International Museum Collection
At the Origami Center in the 1950's and 1960's
My Special Friends
The Friends of the Origami Center
Travels to Europe
British Origami Society
Travels to Asia
Chinese Funeral Papers
Changes from Then to Now
Story of the Chinese Junk
The work of Florence Temko


In 1999, at the time of the 20th anniversary celebration of OrigamiUSA - formerly The Friends of the Origami Center - I had been asked to say a few words about the early days of origami in the United States as I was part of its growth from the beginning. Since then V'Ann Cornelius and several other paperfolders have suggested that I write a more permanent record of my recollections.

My involvement with origami is due to Lillian Oppenheimer who was not only the guiding spirit of bringing origami to public attention in the United States but was a life-changing influence on myself.

David Lister, in his "Lillian Oppenheimer and her Friends" (c 1997) and other essays has documented the early development of origami in the United States. Through his meticulous research he was able to pinpoint dates and describe events that took place during that time that even I did not know about, although I was there and he wasn't! I will try to add to this information, rather than duplicate it. These pages deal mainly with the beginnings of origami in the Western world as I experienced them, with only a few references relating to the later years and are in the nature of personal memoirs.

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Even as a young child I loved to work with my hands. After my mother died I found a small box I had made for her to hold scratch paper. In the centre I had offset three squares of increasing sizes. It seems I was already drawn to squares! I had covered the box with paper I had made with the age-old technique of paste decorating often employed for making book-end papers. I remembered this process when I wrote "Made with Paper" in 1991 when I included how-to directions for a new generation.

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My love for origami began through my friendship with Lillian Oppenheimer. We met in 1948. Two years earlier I had arrived from England as a young war bride. At the time my husband, Leonard Temko, was taken ill and was advised to spend some weeks at a spa in Clinton Falls, in upstate New York. We were then living in Montclair, New Jersey, and our daughter Joan was six months old.

I arranged to visit him for a few days during that time, making the journey by train which took a good few hours. It seems that Leonard was concerned how I would amuse myself during the time he was having treatments. He spoke with Lillian Kruskal, whose husband was recuperating there and she promised that she would take me under her wing.

wooly toysWe found that we both enjoyed crafts and shared other interests. We spent hours together in the Occupational Therapy Department where we learned to make woolly animals. It's hard to describe the technique but it began by winding heavy colored wools around a small loom, cutting and tying them into bunches, which could be combined into giraffes, lambs, pandas and other animals. The trick was to give character to the beasties.

Our friendship continued after we returned to our homes. The Temko family visited the Kruskals in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City, where I became acquainted with Lillian's children and Joani played with her grandson Tommy. I have been close with the family ever since, especially with Rosaly. Later, after Laura married Martin David, her love of origami helped us become good friends.

After Lillian and her husband moved into an apartment in Manhattan, we decided to try to sell some of the woolly animals to stores. Much to our surprise they were welcomed by Bergdorf Goodman, Stern's Department Store and Rosemarie, a prestigious chocolate shop, and others. Now we had to produce the dozens they ordered! I came to New York every Monday, when I had a babysitter for Joani. In the mornings Lillian and I would deliver the merchandise, try to get new orders and then have a scrumptious lunch on her husband's expense account before I went home.

During the week we would be furiously turning yarn into cute animals. Our success was due to the fact that during the years immediately after World War II there was an acute shortage of goods. It was before the time of inexpensive imports from Japan and folkcrafts from many other places. We had lots of fun and in the process Lillian became my American mother who included me in her family.

The enterprise ended in 1950 when Lillian's husband, Joe Kruskal, died and I gave birth to twin sons, Ronald and Stephen, brothers to three-year old Joani. Due to these changed family circumstances Lillian and I saw each other less frequently, but we certainly kept in touch.

In 1952 Lillian married Harry Oppenheimer, a widower who had been married to Lillian's cousin Amy, and they moved to an apartment on the top of the Hotel Irving in Gramercy Park . He traveled a lot on behalf of his textile business and for his philanthropic interests. Lillian often went with him but found she had time on her hands while he attended meetings. To keep herself from being too bored she started selling uniforms to Catholic schools in the towns where Harry was busy.

In 1956 we met for lunch at the Russian Tea Room in Manhattan. This is now a very upscale restaurant, but in those days it was an ethnic, fun place, frequented by artists and theater people. Lillian showed me how to fold a paper square into a house that turns into furniture. I was hooked and thus began my love for origami. She reminded me how she had folded paper years ago with her daughter Molly when she was ill, but that now her interest was rekindled.

Meanwhile the Temko family had moved to New Shrewsbury at the New Jersey shore, about an hour and a half from New York City. Since my three children were now in school I was able to come to the city and be together with Lillian again more frequently. In June 1958 her interest in origami caught the attention of the New York Times columnist, Meyer Berger, who was able to convey the charm of paperfolding in one of his articles and stimulate other unexpected publicity. As a result Lillian presented her first origami workshop In October at the Japan Society, which I attended. This was followed by a series of classes at Lillian's home, which became very popular. They were held on Monday evenings and Tuesday afternoons, a pattern that Lillian continued without interruption year after year.

Atfter her husband Harry died in 1962, Lillian moved to an apartment in a typical New York brownstone on 11th Street, next to the New School for Social Research.

In 1978 Lillian moved once again, to a loft at Union Square, which was very daring at the time and at her age. She kept up with her generous hospitality, shared her prolific correspondence and influx of new models with anyone who came through the door, providing paper for folding and a patient ear for listening. In her tiny kitchen she continued to cook meals for anyone who arrived.

During all these years she gave many origami programs and traveled widely.

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Akira YoshizawaBy spreading the word about origami Lillian brought about the exhibit "Plane Geometry and Fancy Figures" at the Cooper Union Museum in the summer of 1959. It remains as one of my most vivid memories. At the opening on June 1 I was thrilled to see the work of Yoshizawa, Rhoads and others displayed dramatically in lighted glass cases at such a prestigious venue.

The few paperfolders who lived in the Metropolitan area were asked to teach a program from time to time in connection with the exhibit. I looked forward to this assignment with pleasure and apprehension. I am sure every paperfolder knows that feeling of first stepping out in front of the public. I had given two origami workshops at an art gallery in my local community, but this was unfamiliar territory. Very early in the morning of a blistering hot day, I bundled my children off to the beach with a babysitter, got myself on the train with my paper supplies and over to the Museum just before ten o'clock. I set up and waited - and waited - and waited. No one showed up. It turned out that there had been a foul-up in communications with the camp group of children who were supposed to attend. Since that time I have learned to follow up on all details a few days before the date I am supposed to present a program.

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In 1961 I contracted hepatitis from eating infected mussels and was bedridden for six months. My salvation was in folding all models in Robert Harbin's "Paper Magic" and Akira Yoshizawa's "Dokuhon" (Origami Reader) many times. In this way I really absorbed the basics of paperfolding and began timidly to create my own variations.

Later the circulating "Portfolio" offered more stimulation. Ten (or so) paperfolders in the U.S. and Canada each contributed a model to a mailing package which was sent from one person to the next who could keep the box for a month. When the portfolio came around again, one removed one's old model and replaced it with a new one.

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In 1965 the World's Fair was in progress in New York and I was asked by the organizers of the Japan Pavillion to demonstrate origami. When I reported there on the appointed day I was amazed at the operation of a complete large office hidden behind the scene. I was greeted by a young person whom I told the name of the official who had written to me. But she did not introduce me. I think, because of my name, Temko, they assumed I would be Japanese and they didn't quite know what to do with me.

Anyway, I performed at the Pavillion for several hours to hundreds of passers-by. When I returned to the office I was ceremoniously introduced to the official who presented me with some gifts.

A group of about thirty paperfolders, under the leadership of Toyoaki Kawai, arrived from Japan to demonstrate origami at the World's Fair. I made hotel arrangements for them, which worked out very well, except that a camera was stolen. This was incomprehensible to our guests as theft was unknown in Japan.

I believe the group stayed for about three months. Lillian entertained them at the Origami Center and Natalie Epstein, another paperfolder, gave a farewell party for them on the last evening before their return to Japan. In between I invited them to my home in New Jersey.

I really didn't know what kinds of foods to serve. The profusion of Asian cuisine with which we are now familiar was unknown, just as McDonald hamburgers and other Western dishes were not popular in Japan. In any case I decided to prepare a truly American barbecue with hamburgers and frankfurters. I am sorry to say I don't think they made a big hit, but of course no one actually said so. Since then we have come a long way in international interaction from this East/West exploration.

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Following in Lillian's footsteps I began spreading origami by giving programs in schools, clubs and wherever I was welcome. I covered mainly New Jersey, while Lillian was directed more to the New York Metropolitan area. People always asked for directions so that they could remember the steps for the models I taught. This was before the day of photocopying, computers and the internet and it became obvious that a book would be the right solution. I prepared a book proposal with instructions for about ten models. I knocked on the doors of about thirty New York publishers, but no one was prepared to take it on.

Months later one of those publishers, Platt & Munk, well-known for children's books, phoned to ask whether I could write a book on paper cutting as they had commissioned another writer who had bowed out. The editor had remembered that I had previously suggested a book on another paper art. I had never pursued paper cutting but after a couple of days I accepted the assignment, with trepidation. Actually, the work became a tremendous lift while I was housebound with hepatitis.

Titles for books are always tricky and one day the publisher, illustrator, myself and two other people sat around trying to decide on the title. We couldn't come to any conclusion and I thought of kirigami, as a combination of harakiri (ritual cutting) and origami. We called the Japanese consulate to confirm that this was an acceptable term. They did not mention that it was an existing Japanese word.

"Kirigami, the Creative Art of Papercutting" was published in 1962 as a 16-page book placed in a box with a rainbow of origami paper. Since Platt & Munk distributed not only to bookstores but also to the toy industry, they were able to sell 600,000 copies (no royalty to me). Since then the word kirigami has become synonymous with paper cutting.

Unfortunately a newspaper item described the yellow paper square in the package as unhealthy and "Kirigami" was withdrawn until another piece of paper could be substituted. Of course, a child would have not only to handle but to ingest a huge amount of yellow paper before it would be detrimental. The press release about the substitution of the acceptable paper could not correct the initial impact.

Influenced by the success of "Kirigami" the publisher of Platt & Munk, David Dreiman, accepted my proposal for "Party Fun with Origami" which appeared in 1963. Again the book was sold in a box with a rainbow of origami paper.

I now thought about getting a more comprehensive book published, including all known models. After an initial attempt to achieve this, I had to conclude, even that early in the story of origami, that there were already too many models to be accommodated in one "Complete Book of Origami."

The opportunity to write my next origami book came about through some odd circumstances. Once, when I was visiting Platt & Munk, I ran into Mr. Cater whom I knew casually in New Jersey. When he heard what I was doing he suggested I contact his daughter, Elizabeth, who was the Children's Editor at another publishing house, Bobbs Merrill. A year later we ran into each other again, not in our home town, but on the Madison Avenue bus in New York! Once more he encouraged me to contact his daughter, which I did, finally.

This resulted in the publication in 1969 of "Paperfolding to Begin With." The models were very simple to interest young children in the Headstart program which was then being introduced. Joan Stoliar, who had illustrated "Kirigami," produced very clear, full color ilustrations by using the Pantone process of reproduction, which was unprecedented for giving consistent depth of color. From her I learned a lot about book design which helped me throughout my subsequent career as a professional craft writer. Her expertise in book design contributed greatly to the success of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" becoming a bestseller. Elizabeth Cater and I are still friends after these many years.

Doubleday asked me to write a juvenile book on papercutting as part of a craft series of twelve books they were publishing. When I delivered the manuscript the editor, Pat Connolly, asked whether I would like to write more books for the series as she thought I had a talent for writing clear directions. I proposed "Felt-Craft," "Decoupage Craft" and "Self-Stick Craft," all of which appeared subsequently.

With this discovery of a talent I didn't know I had, I became a professional writer about all kinds of crafts. I have now written 47 books with more than 2 1/2 million copies in print, contributed designs to other authors' origami books, innumerable magazine and newspaper articles, and have been the consultant on two films and a CD-rom, not only about origami, but all kinds of paper arts and traditional folkcrafts.

Most of my work is addressed to the general public as an introduction to the fun of crafts. The origami selections range from a simple to a low intermediate level, represented by my own models and traditional ones. I have been told that "Paper Pandas and Jumping Frogs" published by China Books in 1986 and "Origami Magic" published by Scholastic in 1993 have had a major impact on introducing paperfolding to teachers and their students, some of whom later set out on the road of a new consuming hobby. Whenever possible I mentioned The Friends of the Origami Center, and later OrigamiUSA as a resource. .

In a recent New York Times Book Review article the writer Diane Johnson was quoted as saying about the success of her books: "It was a first time in my life that I might be sitting next to someone on an airplane and if I admitted that I had written this book, they would have read it. It was stunning to me." I concur and still find it stunning whenever a paperfolder says to me: "Oh, I got started on origami with your "Paper: Folded, Cut, Sculpted" (c 1974) or "Paper Pandas and Jumping Frogs" (c 1986). Yet I have never found it easy to add an appropriate short dedication when I autograph books and admire other authors who seem to be able to do it readily.

I attended quite a few conventions to promote my books and spread origami. Most years the publishers invited me to attend the national American Booksellers Association meetings held each year around Memorial Day. I would attract attendees to the booth by demonstrating origami, like a magician. I really enjoyed the activity, not to mention the parties which went on in the evenings. Several times I also attended the annual conventions of the American Library Association. I met many librarians who became interested in acquiring origami books for their collections and I am often still well remembered when I visit libraries.

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click for larger imageIn 1958 I presented my first origami program at the Old Mill Art Association, in Tinton Falls, near my home. About five or six people were expected because the only publicity was a short announcement in the local Red Bank, New Jersey, newspaper. When 28 people showed up it became obvious that origami had a future. I found favor with other art associations, schools, colleges, Women's Clubs and other organizations who invited me to present hands-on programs at their meetings. I gave several demonstrations in the auditorium and in the store at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. One year I gave a program a week on average. I sometimes addressed assemblies of more than 200 participants, who came away with two or three folded things. Later on Teachers' conventions were especially welcoming because reading and math teachers could see the benefits of origami but wanted to find out how to present it to their students.

Initially I taught three or four things: the magazine cover box, the swan, the jumping frog and perhaps another model geared to the time of the year, very similar to the sequence worked out by Lillian. Later I introduced a greater variety of models and always interspersed the hands-on teaching with information about the history of origami and anecdotes about other paperfolders.

This freelance activity fitted in well with my being a homemaker and mother of three, as I would be away only for a few hours at a time although occasionally I travelled as far north as Maine and as far south as Richmond, Virginia. I had brochures printed giving details of my programs with a photo taken by Monroe Edelstein, a good friend, and professional photographer for corporations and advertisers. Robert Harbin included it in his "Secrets of Origami."

On a short visit to Hong Kong in 1965 I had a beautiful peacock blue brocade silk made into a dress which I wore for my performances. I displayed origami models in co-ordinating colors on an umbrella-like stand.

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Many times I have been a guest on television programs to demonstrate origami. I first appeared on a program in London in the early 1960's, i believe on ITV. The producer and I discussed my ideas. When I told her I would like to teach how to make the simple box, she became very skeptical, but allowed that I could rehearse teaching my 12-year-old niece, Caroline, who had accompanied me. She was the envy of her younger sister, Eleanor, who was not allowed on the set because of her age.

After Caroline and I finished the segment I found a four-foot pile of boxes behind the stage. The producer had asked everyone to fold along with us to see whether my idea worked!

Besides guest appearances on Steve Allen's and other shows, I demonstrated and taught origami and other crafts every two weeks on a morning program originating from Albany, New York, for about a year in the 1970's. I find television is not a lot different from teaching in person. For a guest show I usually give a list of questions to the host beforehand to help focus on interesting aspects of origami. On the regular craft programs aired nowadays the crafter prepares actual steps beforehand.

Once I nearly brought a whole production to a halt because I myself put an origami model on the demonstration table. This was the job of a union employee, but the organizers decided to overlook my mistake.

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People often ask me how I create new models. I find it happens when I cannot find models for a special purpose or a program, or when I am doodling while I am on the phone. Recently I made a list of models of my creation and they numbered about 200. Many were invented to include in my origami books. I tried to develop a concept from the beginning of a book to the end. In other words, each model should add something new to the one before. To fulfil this purpose I created new models where I felt a gap existed. This was one way of pushing me to invent new designs.

I like the challenge of folding other people's super complex models but my inclination continues toward folding and designing simpler ones. Many have been shown in origami publications, newspapers and magazines.

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In the early 1960's I started collecting instructions for the models I knew and new ones which came to my attention, filing them alphabetically. I placed a completed model in a 6 1/2-inch by 3 3/4-inch envelope, wrote the title with red crayon on the left top corner and pencilled instructions in the lower half of the envelope. On the inside back flap I wrote the name of the creator and the date. I made small step folds from scratch paper and placed them inside the envelope. A new models proliferated, it became difficult to prepare step folds all the time, but I continued to file new models. Later I replaced the paper envelopes with plastic transparent ones which can accommodate a 3-inch by 5-inch index card for additional information.

Lillian adopted my method of cataloguing models, but used larger envelopes. She and Natalie Epstein spent endless hours in cataloguing. This collection is now at the OrigamiUSA offices at the American Natural History Museum.

My own collection contains about 2,000 original models and other information spanning more than four decades. Models folded by origami pioneers include Deer and Eagle by Baggi; Baby and Mouse by Pat Crawford; Horse and Rider and instructions for the Train by Mooser; Camel (money fold) and Flower in Pot by Rohm; Poke Box by Skillman; Giraffe by Yoshizawa, and many others. Of course, the finished models may be a little squashed having lived in envelopes for so long, but are still of historic interest.

The collection is still here at my home, housed in five cabinets each containing four or five drawers. They are slated to be transferred to the Mingei International Museum in San Diego in the not too distant future. Although I welcome all paperfolders to consult these archives here, at the Mingei they will be more easily accessible for consultation by anyone who is interested.

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The Mingei Museum Library in San Diego already devotes several shelves to the "Temko Papercraft Collection" of books. Besides origami books the collection includes books about paper cutting, paper sculpture and folk arts which are related subjects that interest me. I began donating most of my accumulation of books in 1983 when I moved from Lenox, Massachusetts, to California. Many of them, which were published in the 1950's and 1960's, are now out of print and rare, such as "The Art of Origami" by Samuel Randlett, and the reproduction of the "Kan no modo" by the Brossmans. The only known copy of "Pleasant Work for Busy Fingers" by Maggie Browne, was published in 1896 by Cassell in London.

The Director and Founder of the Mingei International Museum, Martha Longenecker, has a deep understanding of paper arts in general and origami in particular. My donation gave the impetus for the Museum to organize and present an exhibition "Paper Innovations: Handmade Paper and Handmade Objects of Cut, Folded and Molded Paper" in 1985, which included origami works by David Brill, Robert Lang, Yoshihide Momotani, Emanuel Mooser, Toshie Takahama, Florence Temko, Arnold Tubis, Stephen Weiss, Akira Yoshizawa and others.

Looking into the future, the Mingei Museum is planning a world class exhibition of origami for fall 2003. OrigamiUSA is planning to hold its West Coast PCOC convention to coincide during October.

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Lillian was the catalyst for bringing together paperfolders from the U.S. and elsewhere and her home became known as The Origami Center. Out-of-town folders planned their visits to be able to attend the regular monthly meetings on Monday evenings and Tuesday afternoons. At the time I was living in New Jersey, but I missed few meetings.There were no rules, no officers, no minutes. On the rare occasions when Lillian was out of town I would take over. In these meetings Lillian established the spirit that pervades the origami world to this day. We all folded together and whoever had come across something new or created a model, shared it with the others.

Herman Shall came from Pennsylvania to share his money and other folds. He was the father of Michael Shall who subseqently became the leading light of OrigamiUSA. Joel Stern was a teenager who came to the Origami Center, but his love of origami has continued. I like his cello as a most impressive model. Guiseppe Baggi, the intense genius, quietly produced new designs all the time. George Rhoads showed early interest in origami but is now a well-known artist of complex kinetic sculptures. (I came across one of them two years ago when I took my grandson to the emergency room at the Children's Hospital in San Diego. I encountered another one at Logan International Airport in Boston.)

Adolfo Cerceda stayed with Lillian for a few days while she was living in Gramercy Park. He spent a whole afternoon teaching a few of us how to fold his Moor on Horseback, which we found to be very innovative because it began with a double square, i.e. a two by one rectangle. After I returned home it took me at least a week to be able to repeat it. It was a delight to watch him fold, as his creases were exceptionally precise. It's no wonder, when you consider that he was a professional knife thrower, who would aim knives to outline his wife when she was standing against a wall. To steady his nerves he folded paper while waiting to go on stage.

Less frequent visitors included Martin Gardner, famed columnist of Scientific American. Gershon Legman, who assembled an invaluable bibliography of paperfolding books and other publications, appeared only once that I remember, when he came from France to the US to see his ailing mother which may have been in 1963.

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I formed especially close friendships with some of the paperfolders whom I met at The Origami Center.

Of course I was in constant touch with Alice Gray and later Michael Shall. I could always rely on Alice for examining any issue with fairness and precision. Her connection with the American Museum of Natural History ultimately provided the office for The Friends of the Origami Center, which has benefitted the origami community to this day. Being an entomologist Alice loved real and paper insects and would sometimes bring along a favorite pet.

Michael Shall and I enjoyed private times together when we met for breakfast when I came to New York. Some of our long discussions about many aspect of paperfolding could become quite heated. In one of my most vivid memories I unexpectedly caught sight of him rollerskating in a busy New York mid-town street. In another picture I see him standing on a ladder at the Japan Airlines office decorating the annual Christmas tree. His apron was covered with wired origami that he carefully placed on the tree. He attached the models in circular rows around the tree and adjusted each one to within a quarter of an inch. No wonder it took him almost two weeks to finish the job. At our last encounter we sat together on a bench in Central Park talking, talking, talking, folding, folding, folding.

Fred Rohm lived in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, but his daughter and family lived in New Jersey, about five miles from my home. Whenever he visited her he would come over to my house. I suspect he was glad for the excuse to get away for a few hours from the activity of two small grandchildren and concentrate on his favorite hobby. He taught me his Flower in a Pot, Magic Rabbit, Lion and other creations. It was amazing to watch his stubby fingers perform the most intricate moves.

Dorothy Kaplan became addicted to origami when she attended my first origami program which I presented at the Old Mill Art Gallery in Tinton Falls. For many years she has made many people happy with her origami programs, especially as a recreation director at a senior center and through her regular craft programs presented on cable television. In addition she has produced a record and two booklets.

Dr. Emanuel Mooser, a top scientist from Switzerland, attended one of the monthly meetings. At the time I had planned to visit Geneva a few weeks later. When I arrived there he invited me to Lausanne, where he lived, to join him, his wife and two children on a trip to a winery on Lake Geneva. We met at their home and I was immediately taken with a mobile of 48 Swiss Soldiers on Horses, folded from paper. All 48 were hung from threads and lined up meticulously in military formation. Then Manny introduced me to his pleated abstracts, which have since become a favorite creative _expression for me. He has had relatively little recognition in the origami world, but is without a doubt one of the major talents of the early days. He created the first origami train and subsequently exhibited his abstracts, beautifully framed, in a fine art gallery in Zurich.

We five took off on a ride along the lake in pouring rain. When we arrived at the winery we descended into a cavern filled with huge wooden vats. Their fronts were decorated with wine harvesting scenes, painted by an ancestor of the vintner. The two children played hide and seek among the kegs while the adults tasted several wines and became merrier and merrier.

I met Shari Lewis several times when Lillian wrote three origami books with her as co-author. With her puppet, Lambchop, she became a well-known feature on public television, PBS. She was an extremely friendly and vivacious person. About a year before she died I met her again at the American Bookseller Association convention where she was promoting her books at the Time/Life booth right next to the booth where I was demonstrating origami. In spite of the time that had elapsed since we had seen each other and her fame as a TV entertainer, she greeted me warmly and a few days later called to buy some of my books.

James Sakoda and I got to know each other better when we both became out-of-town founding members of the board of The Friends of the Origami Center. Later, when I visited him at Brown University in Rhode Island he showed me his reflective foldings from foil gift wrap, which he called hikori-ori. I had been folding somewhat similar pleated zig-zags from white paper or striped giftwrap, but started to enjoy the effect of creating with gold foil, with the dramatic changes in shadows as one viewed them from different angles.

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Lillian was the Founder and Director of The Origami Center of America in 1958 but there was no structure beyond her regular monthly meetings and the publication of "The Origamian." With the increased worldwide interest in origami it seemed necessary to establish a new organization. A letter dated 30 May,1979, signed by Lillian Oppenheimer, Alice Gray, Michael Shall and Florence Temko, invited interested paperfolders to attend a meeting on June 13 to "build a solid Foundation for the future of Origami."

In this way the "The Friends of the Origami Center" was formed. The choice of the awkward title came about because Lillian wanted to maintain the Origami Center and continue as its Director as long as she could. She loved the activity of the meetings, of people dropping by - and sending out orders for books. Wrapping the packages gave her great pleasure.

At the time I lived in Lenox, Massachusetts, a 3 1/2 hour ride to New York. I traveled once a month to attend board meetings and what could have been more exciting than such a new venture! As I could not return to Lenox after the evening board meetings, I used to spend the night at Lillian's and sleep on a green armchair that could be extended into a narrow bed. She was always happy for me to stay over as she loved company.

Dr. James Sakoda travelled to the board meetings from Rhode Island. As such, the two of us represented the interests of out-of-town paperfolders. Although I enjoyed being closely involved in the initial planning stage of the Friends, after about a year I attended fewer meetings, because of the ill health of my husband but performed many tasks from my home.

One of Lillian's major concerns was how her work would continue when she was no longer able to be the fulcrum. What would happen to her library of books and collection of step folds of models? How would the worldwide connections be kept up?

She thought the Cooper Union Museum would be a good depository for her archives, but many changes had taken place there since the original paperfolding exhibit was held in 1959. As a result of becoming part of the Smithsonian Institute it was moved to a mansion on the upper East side of Manhattan and renamed the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design. Lillian delegated me to keep in contact with the new director who showed some interest but definite arrangements were put off again and again.

Prospects for an eventual solution to continuity became much brighter when Alice Gray was able to establish the origami office at the American Museum of Natural History where she was an entomologist. With the appearance on the scene of Michael Shall and his willingness and enthusiasm to be devoted to origami the future became more assured.

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I have had many opportunities to travel. Because my parents, brother, cousins and various other relatives live in England I tried to go "home" as often as possible. On several trips I combined my family visits with stopovers in Ireland, France, Switzerland, or Italy, where I was able to meet with paperfolders thanks to Lillian's worldwide address book and in all I have visited 31 countries.. When I became a travel agent during the 1960's I was able to travel at 75% discount. What an opportunity!

In Paris I attended a meeting of the MFPP (Mouvement Francais des Plieurs de Papier) one Saturday afternoon. In my broken French I taught some models, but their president Alain Georgeot helped me out as he knows English very well. It was a riot because he was making a lot of jokes as he went along. Among the other members of the MFPP I became especially fond of Genevieve de Gouvion St. Cyr .

In Florence in 1978 I attended a meeting of the Italian Origami Group where I met Roberto Morassi and other paperfolders. One of them invited me to teach at her school the next day.

Origami can lead one into interesting adventures. We were staying on the far side of the Arno river and I took a bus to the appointed place, an old building that looked like a fortress in an area pretty deserted at night. I could not find any entrance but finally found a bar where the patrons pointed to the wall I had been looking at before. I still couldn't see an entry. One of the men took me over there and, yes, there was a door which opened miraculously to reveal the meeting of the origami group.

After about an hour of cordial interaction and folding I realized that the group wanted to have a meeting and I decided to leave, planning to take the bus back. I waited at the stop for about twenty minutes until a passerby told me in sign language that there is no service after 9 p.m. What to do?

I saw the entrance to a hotel in a lighted plaza a few blocks away. I asked the doorman to get me a taxi, please, but he refused, because I wasn't staying in the hotel. I decided to cross the plaza and go back to the meeting. All of a sudden some young men whooped it up, jumping all around and over the tops of cars, causing a great hullabaloo and I didn't know what was going on. I was glad to get back to my friends, one of whom gave me a ride back in his car.

At a British Origami Society convention in Nottingham I met the Danish genius Thoki Yenn, and Silke Schroeder and Paulo Mulatinho from Germany. At the invitation of Marieke, the talented presenter of her mini origami theater, I visited Amsterdam, Holland, in 1996 to demonstrate origami next to the huge Christmas tree at a shopping mall. There I also saw Herman van Goubergen, creator of many great models.

In 1981 I visited Vicente Palacios in Barcelona, where I met Juano Gimeno, Concepcion Many and her sister. After we had a folding session at our hotel, Vicente suggested an excursion trip for all of us for the next day which was great fun.

And there were many more foreign paperfolders whom I enjoyed meeting over the years.

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Robert Harbin, a professional magician, had stirred up interest in origami with a series of television programs. When I visited him for the first time in London in his flat near Baker Street, a name known for its association with Sherlock Holmes, his wife Dorothy opened the door. Her husband was not home yet. We chatted over a cup of tea until Robert rushed in like a whirlwind, right through to the other end of the flat to his drawing table, with barely a hello to me. When he had completed what was on his mind he welcomed me most warmly. I thought he was quite rude but when I started to write books myself I realized that he had something on his mind that he just had to get down on paper.

My relationship with some members of the British paperfolders goes as far back as the late 1950s Among them are Robert Harbin, David Lister, Mick Guy, Paul Jackson, John Cunningham, Iris Walker, Eric Kenneway, Gwyneth Radcliffe, John Smith, Marlene Stroud and others. Robin Macey, visited us in San Diego in 1988 and David Lister in 1998.

In 1966 Lillian the first meeting of a few English paperfolders took place at Lillian's daughter Rosaly's house in London. It happened that I was visiting my own family there at the time and was able to attend this momentous occasion in the history of British Origami. Naturally I have a very close feeling for the BOS and have attended as many of their meetings and conventions as I could.

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In 1965 BOAC (now British Airways) offered a travel agents' tour to Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Bangkok and Singapore in which I was privileged to participate.

I began my journey from the East Coast to San Francisco, where I met up with the rest of the tour participants, about forty altogether. We continued to Hawaii for an overnight stay at the Royal Waikiki Hotel, then on to Tokyo. I was met by a Japanese gentleman who, in perfect English, introduced himself as a friend of Akira Yoshizawa's. He was a reporter for the Asahi Shimbum, Tokyo's premier newspaper. My visit had been announced by Lillian. I was the first American to be received by Mr. Yoshizawa after her own visit.

By taxi we drove for about 45 minutes to Akira Yoshizawa's home. On the way we were stopped at a railroad crossing. The barrier went down about five minutes before the train puffed in. It took another five minutes before the barrier was lifted.

After greetings we all sat down Japanese style on the floor, but Mrs. Yoshizawa served us snacks, entering the room kneeling. We conversed politely for what seemed a long time, probably about two hours, without any reference being made to origami.

All of a sudden, Mr. Yoshizawa became more lively and started to show me some of his work. I especially remember the two-foot long green dragon and his insect. He delicately placed what seemed like a solid wooden block on the table, but it turned out to be a box so beautifully made that the seam could not be discerned. When he opened it I could see an insect that had the "life" of a true work of art and seemed poised to jump up. Paperfolders have talked about this mythical insect because it took Yoshizawa 23 years to perfect it, and here I was able to see it. If memory serves me right it had eight legs.

I learned later that I had been very privileged to have been shown the work of such a great master on my first visit. The initial period of polite conversation was considered very short for being looked over to be worthy of sharing his attention. An interested local Japanese person could possibly have had to pay respect two or three times.

Mr. and Mrs. Yoshizawa received me again in 1977. They were then living in their new home and we were seated at western style tables and chairs. In the meantime he had more contact with other foreign folders and our exchange was more relaxed. We both felt a strong bond because we had met before so early on. We saw each other again at New York Origami Conventions and spent some time chatting at the exhibition in Paris in 1997. He always greeted me warmly and at times asked me to join him at his table for dinner.

Toshie Takahama and I corresponded frequently and showed me many kindnesses on both my visits to Tokyo. As the motivating force of the Nippon Origami Society she tried to instil the spirit of sharing which she had observed on her visit to America in 1965, rather than following the traditional authoritarian Japanese ways.

In 1977 Toshie Takahama and I were collaborating on "The Magic of Kirigami" which occasioned my second visit to Japan. We met at the office of Japan Publications for an editorial meeting. Afterwards Toshie invited me to a meeting at the Nippon Origami Society. I explained that I had made a lunch date with my husband, but she was strangely insistent. It turned out that an elaborate get-together had been arranged in my honor. Amongst other things a specially impressive paperfolded chrysanthemum plant was given to me by Saburo Kaseamong other origami.

On my earlier visit I was received by Mr. Kawai at his home while he was giving an origami class, which was indeed a special favor. We folded together in 1977 when he came to see me at the Hotel Otani.

Kosho UchiyamaKosho Uchiyama, a Buddhist monk, followed his grandmother's and his father's interest in folding paper. I had the honor to meet him on both my visits to Kyoto. On my first visit in 1965 I did not have an appointment, nor did I know the accurate name of the temple where he lived. A young student who acted as my interpreter, accompanied me on my search. In Japan addresses are not exact, and as is usual, we enquired at the local police kiosks for help in locating Uchiyama-san. As there are hundreds temples in Kyoto it took several efforts before we succeeded in arriving at the right place at about 4.30 p.m. Although I was unexpected Uchiyama received me very cordially and we sat down on the floor. We conversed with the aid of the interpreter, who often became so fascinated with what Uchiyama had to say that he forgot to translate for me. He did say that Uchiyama had to attend prayers at 5 p.m.

During our time together Uchiyama showed me several of his works, and finally his Buddha seated on a lotus, made from fine handmade paper. I gasped and contemplated it with reverence, as I had not seen such a complex and spiritual model before. Suddenly he grasped it in two places and opened it into a large square - I'd say about 16 inches across. With a smile he asked me whether I wanted to refold it (of course not) and quickly departed. The student and I left the temple, leaving our footprints in the snow and with an unusual memory.

In 1977 Mrs. Mitsuda, a Kyoto resident and an avid paperfolder, invited my husband and me to spend a day with her. She had arranged for a visit to Uchiyama, but earlier in the day she took us to see a friend of hers, a famous painter of silk kimonos, some of which were destined for the Emperor's family.

Uchiyama had retired about two years earlier and now lived in a private home. Mrs. Mitsuda spoke perfect English and was able to translate our conversations. He again showed us some of his consummate, elegant, sophisticated models, including Christ on the Cross. He told us about two of his students who had moved to the United States. By a tremendous coincidence they had settled less than an hour away from where we lived in Massachusetts. After our return home my husband and I visited them in a very isolated area, where they had built a house and grew some of their own food, including Japanese vegetables. They were thrilled to receive personal greetings from their revered teacher.

After Tokyo I visited Hong Kong where I saw the most elaborate napkin folding at the Hilton Hotel. On a buffet table boats folded from snow white napkins held assorted fruit which sat besides a life size ice sculpture of a swan. I went behind the scenes and met the chef who showed me how he pleated the starched linens.

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Chinese Funeral papers are not strictly speaking origami, but I am including these remarks as some paperfolders have expressed interest.

On my trip to Asia in 1965 I flew from New York with a stopover in San Francisco. I had heard of, but had never seen Chinese burial papers which are paper reproductions of worldly possessions. They are burned at the time of burial and in years afterwards to provide comforts for a dead person in the hereafter. In Chinatown I asked around in the shops and at the Community Center but no one was able - or willing - to give me any information.

When I made enquiries in Hong Kong I followed some leads, but before I could follow up on them my stay was over.

On my next stop in Singapore I had an introduction to a local Malaysian family. The wife offered to take me sightseeing and asked what I would like to take in. There was an awkward silence when I expressed a desire to find Chinese funerary papers. When we met she disclosed that the custom of burning paper funeral offerings was now considered an old-fashioned superstition to which she did not subscribe but that she had asked her amah, her children's nurse, where burial papers could be found.

After lunch we visited a shop in the Chinese part of town which was stacked from floor to ceiling with paper constructions of animals, furniture, carriages, refrigerators, Cadillacs, made with tissue paper glued over bamboo structures. I bought some packages of money made from handmade paper imprinted with gold leaf, paper robes painted in wild colors, and a few other artifacts for $25 which was all I could comfortably ship back to the United States

A Bhuddist temple was conveniently located right across the street from the shop. There visitors prayed at the altar and selected joss sticks to tell their fortunes. They tossed burial papers into a huge, about 10 ft high, incinerator.

Some of the funeral papers I had collected were later exhibited at the American Crafts Museum in New York City in 1967. The curator of the "Made with Paper" exhibit had been unaware of their existence and happy to display them. Nevertheless those that had not been included and kept in one of the museum offices were thrown away by accident as scrap paper.

In my book "Chinese Paper Cuts" (published by China Books and Publications in 1982) on pages 91-96, I give a fuller account of my experiences in finding funeral papers. Subsequent research into the subject has been conducted by David Lister (see e-mail correspondence on the Origami list, 12/00).

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Put yourself back to the days before photo copying machines, when travel was not as widespread, when long distance telephoning was expensive, when e-mail and the internet could not even be contemplated. The only way to share our passion for origami was through personal contact and through books. The monthly meetings were augmented by Lillian's worldwide correspondence and, for a limited time, by the circulating portfolio.

Most models we knew in the 1960's are now considered simple, or perhaps low intermediate. The complexity of today's models did not enter our minds as a possibility. Wet folding, the method of folding papers while damp to achieve more rounded sculptural respresentions, and the widespread practice of modulars made up of several interlocking pieces of paper, were yet to come. I see the future of origami as bringing in more new developments which we cannot even imagine now.

Fortunately origami is becoming more and more popular in schools as teachers are recognizing that paperfolding is a wonderful tool in math, social science, reading and art that students enjoy.

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I learned the story of the Chinese Junk in an unusual way. In April 1982 I was invited to teach origami at a school in Manchester, Massachusetts. During the afternoon before the date I drove three hours from my home in Lenox to Gloucester to stay overnight. In the evening I sat myself down in a fish restaurant and ordered a local Maine lobster. Sitting there all alone I savored every mouthful, to the extent that, when I paid the bill, the waitress said: "I have never seen anyone enjoy a lobster that much."

The next morning I started on the half-hour drive from Gloucester to Manchester among a light snowfall, which turned into an unexpected blizzard before I reached my destination. Among great confusion school was closed and all students had to return home. I wandered around and taught origami in any classroom where children were still waiting.

There was no question of my returning home that day, as the roads were closed due to ice. A schoolboard member kindly invited me to stay at her historic house. After dinner we sat around the fire, together with her niece. It turned out that Sylvia Olney, my hostess, came from a missionary family. She told me that an uncle was known to entertain his nieces and nephews by folding a Chinese junk. He accompanied the steps of the folding sequence with the following story, which I repeat here. On reading it over now I think it refers to the fortune teller sequence, rather than what we call the more complicated Chinese Junk.

A Chinese lady gave a dinner party and ordered some beautiful candy dishes for all her guests. For the main dish she decided to serve roast beef on an elegant platter. While she was making all these arrangement her nephew came in and she asked him to wear his best suit. He wanted to wear his turtleneck and pants, but agreed to change. Meanwhile the lady of the house looked over all the tablecloths to make sure they were ironed perfectly. Finally she was satisfied that everything was in order.
When the guests arrived they were taken on a ride on the lake in a double boat. When they returned to the house the Chinese lady placed a big mirror at the entrance so that her guests could straighten their hair and adjust their ties.

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I was privileged to share new challenges offered by an age-old craft with a cast of exceptional people. These reminiscences relate to a period which is not well documented and do not represent a comprehensive story. Why include these happenings and not others? Good question, for which I do not have an answer. Memory is funny.

For myself I am still thrilled every time I fold a piece of paper and it amazes me that this can maintain my interest over so many decades. Besides this intimate pleasure, I love being able to take out a paper square and fold something on the spur of the moment for someone else. On a wider level I have been told that my main contributions to the growth of origami may have been to introduce large audiences to the joys of paperfolding through in-person programs and through my books. Addressing teachers in schools and at educational conferences has helped to spread their understanding of origami as a useful educational tool.

I hope that the events I have described have introduced you to some of the early pioneers of origami and you have enjoyed meeting them. Perhaps you will have gained a perspective on the times when the worldwide origami community was very small. I met other wonderful paperfolders during the period covered by these pages and many more since then. I can't imagine my life without these great friends. I wish I could list them all but would like to thank them for sharing their talents and affection with me. The art of origami has advanced incredibly, but that's another story. Let us all continue to enjoy the pleasure we find in a piece of paper.

Note: These recollections were written from memory and I hope I will be forgiven for any errors in exact dates and other occurrences. I shall be glad to receive comments.

Photo captions:
With Lillian Oppenheimer
Woolly Animals
Akira Yoshizawa
Kosho Uchiyama

San Diego, California, 2001


5050 La Jolla Boulevard, Suite P-C, San Diego, CA. 92109. e-mail:

Titles in bold type are in print as of 11/2004 and available from local bookstores and on the Internet. Other titles may be available from Florence Temko direct.

Fall 2005: Kirigami Home Decorations; Tuttle Publishing, 48 pages, full color, $8.95
Fall 2005: Origami Party Time; Tuttle Publishing, 48 pages, full color, $8.95
Kirigami Greeting Cards And Gift Wrap; Tuttle Publishing, 48 pgs
Origami Boxes And More; Tuttle Publishing, 48 pages, full color, $8.95
Origami Airplanes; Tuttle Publishing, 48 pages, full color, $8.95
Origami Holiday Decorations (for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa); Tuttle
Origami Toys; Tuttle Publishing, 48 pages, full color, $8.95
Origami For Beginners, Tuttle Publishing 32 pages, $4.95
Traditional Crafts Series of six books. 64 pgs. each. Lerner Publications
From The Caribbean; ...From Japan; ...From China; From Mexico & Central America, ...from africa, ...From Native North America
Origami Favorites Series, Heian,16 pgs full color, $8.95, Six titles
A Thousand Cranes; Paper Jewelry, Money Folding, Money Folding 2; Jewish Origami; Jewish Origami 2; Bibleorigami, New Testament Origami; Wedding Origami.
For Your Eyes Only-13 Ways To Fold Secret Notes; Pages/Willowisp 32 pgs. $2.50
Origami Magic; Scholastic, 64 pages plus 30 squares of paper, 1995, $8.95
Made With Paper, London. 1993, 128 pages, full color. Also in French, Fleuris, Paris.
Scary Things and Funny Money, Pages/Willowisp, each 32 pages,
Paper Tricks Ii,'90; Paper Tricks, '88; Scholastic, 48 Pgs. $3.00 each
Paper Pandas And Jumping Frogs, Origami And Its Uses. All ages. China Books
Sorpresas De Papel. Spanish translation of “Paper Pandas;” '90; Selector, Mexico City.
New Knitting, 36 patterns and Design your Own. HP Books, 128 pages, 1984
Chinese Papercuts, Their Story, How To Use Them And Make Them. China Books, '82
The Big Felt Burger & 27 Other Craft Projects To Relish; Doubleday '77. Xerox Book Club
Folk Crafts For World Friendship. Doubleday and UNICEF. 144 pages. 1976
Paper: Folded, Cut, Sculpted; Macmillan 192 pages, 1974
Paper Capers; Scholastic, 48 pages, 1974. French and Dutch editions.
Paperfolding To Begin With, 1968, Bobbs-Merrill, 32 pages.

..... and others. Total of more than 2 3/4 million copies of Temko books in print.

Consultant, Origami Masterworks Exhibition 2004, Mingei International Museum
Featured in Origami Masterworks Documentary Book (ISBN: 0914155-18-0) and Video/DVD.

Contributor: NY Sunday Times, Boston Globe, American Craft, Sky (Delta Airlines Magazine) and many other publications. Weekly craft column for “Berkshire Eagle” and other newspapers.

Films: “Origami” for Film Board of Canada.”Creating with Paper" for CBS Educational Films (Phoenix), Bi-weekly TV craft program. Many TV guest appearances in US, England, Japan.

Hundreds of hands-on programs in schools, colleges, National Science Foundation; museums, incl. Metropolitan Museum NY; libraries, incl. Boston Library, in industrial, commercial and convention settings. Seminars for teachers of reading, math, art, gifted and learning disabled.

Member: Authors Guild; ASJA; San Diego Press Club; Founder Member ORIGAMI USA; British Origami Society. Listed World's Who's Who of Women; of American Women: of Community Leaders.

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