Origami Recollectionsby Florence Temko
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.
LILLIAN OPPENHEIMER 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.
We 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
TEMKO MODEL COLLECTION 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
..... and others. Total of more than 2 3/4 million copies of Temko books in print.
Consultant, Origami Masterworks Exhibition 2004, Mingei International Museum
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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