The Clouds of Thoki Yenn

This site is a time capsule of Thoki's site at the time of his death. Out of respect for his memory, we have made no effort to "tidy up" the links or code and you may find it difficult to navigate. However, in many ways it represents Thoki's mind - not always logical or straight-forward, but full of immense creativity, warmth and humour. Below, David Lister has written a short tribute for those who know little of the man or his works.

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A short tribute to Thoki Yenn
Thoki began his career as a magician, but developed it far beyond that. For one thing, he had an innate ability as an artist. No hesitant or tentative lines for Thoki! The first lines he drew were always right. Kalmon appeared like magic with just the right posture and expression for what he was telling us. Thoki was able to “draw” with scissors just as well as with a pencil and this led him to develop his act in which he would cut his little cut-and-folded animals. It was suggested to him by a friend, who noticed his unusual abilities and it became for many years his main claim to fame. He devised a large repertoire of models and when he invited the audience to ask them to suggest a creature, he was always able to select an animal from the clamour that went up! It was through this paper-cutting routine that Thoki came to the notice of paperfolders. In the early 1950s, Robert Harbin heard about Thoki through the showmen’s grapevine, but misunderstood and in “Paper Magic” (1956), he mentioned Thoki as being a paperfolder, but a very elusive one.

Lillian Oppenheimer decided to seek him out and after visiting her daughter, Rosaly and Robert Harbin in London, she went on to Copenhagen. Lillian was nothing if not determined and miraculously she managed to fi nd him where others had failed. The result was that they spent an evening together at the Europa Hotel and Lillian taught Thoki how to fold. The result was that Thoki was fascinated and actually became a paperfolder. For one of his early models, he devised an impressive whale (with just tiny cuts). Ligia Montoya, far away in Argentina, came across this and worked out a way of folding it. Robert Harbin included her version in his next book, “Secrets of Origami” (1964). But still Thoki remained elusive. Among other things he came to England to work in animated cartoons, something that totally engrossed him at the time. His stay in England did enable him to perfect his fl uency in English: he had a great affection for the language of Shakespeare. But Thoki still didn’t try to get in touch with the British Origami Society. Only in the early 1980s did Mick Guy, then Secretary of the BOS, receive a letter from Thoki, then back in Denmark, asking to become a member. Such was the fame of Thoki that the news was received with rejoicing.

So Thoki came to the next BOS convention which was held at Keble College in Oxford. From then on, Thoki was an enthusiastic paperfolder in many different ways. He attended conventions round the world and everyone who met him was captivated by his charm. Terribly ferocious in appearance and affecting a stern attitude, he was, as so many people found, kind, friendly and very helpful at heart. I remember long sessions with him at which we discussed not only paperfolding, but also mathematics (of the more moderate kind) and even such esoteric subjects as the length of the ancient Roman Foot, which is virtually the same as the length of A4 paper. Thoki was convinced that the Roman Foot was the source of the length of A4! We found that we both owned an obscure book in English on symbolic mathematics by Tons Brunes called “The Secrets of Ancient Geometry and its Use” which is extremely rare. Thoki got many of his ideas from it. Thoki is well known for his models which are based on a mathematical basis.

His model of DNA is justly famous, but anything with a strong basic mathematical structure attracted him. In April 1985, he published a collection of his mathematical models as “13 Thoki Yenn Orikata” as a BOS booklet. (Thoki Yenn had a great affection for the number thirteen. The booklet was number 13 in the BOS series!). Thoki later, himself, republished the A5 booklet in A4 format and it has become a standard work. Humi Huzita invited Thoki to attend the First International Meeting of Origami Science and Technology at Ferrara in Italy in December 1989, where he joined a select group of brilliant academic mathematicians. They included Koryu Miura and Toshikazu Kawasaki from Japan. This meeting is now seen as the effective start of modern academic studies into the mathematics of origami. Thoki’s own contribution was on “Origami and Insanity” and while, perhaps not adding much to our fundamental knowledge of the mathematics of Origami, it was acclaimed as a tremendous tour de force, full of actual paperfolding that illustrated

Thoki’s own fascination with some of the curiosities of mathematics such as the rotating ring of tetrahedra, the hyperbolic parabaloid and doubling the cube. Thoki developed his ideas in his own Website, “The Clouds of Thoki Yenn”. It has many ins and out which are not immediately obvious and is worth exploring deeply to discover something of the fertile and constructive imagination of Thoki. It is of great importance that this Website should be permanently archived on a readily accessible site, so that it may remain a memorial to our beloved Thoki. He will live on in his legacy of models and ideals. More than that he will live on in the memories of him that each of us will treasure and in our hearts. him that each of us will treasure and in our hearts.

David Lister.

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