Alice Gray - Entomologist and Paperfolder
Meeting Alice Gray
Paperfolding was certainly the means by which I came to know Alice Gray. I had written to the Origami Center in New York asking if they could let me have photocopies of some rare books and it was she who sent them to me. That was in January 1966 and we continued a regular correspondence for another two years. In her first letter to me, Alice asked me to look out for insect trivia: she said that, for fun, she collected insect toys, greetings cards, old prints, dress fabrics, jewellery, household wares, musical themes, literary references and particularly folklore, a field in which she found it most difficult to amass "specimens". In particular she told me that she had been trying for twenty years to discover why the ladybird was so-called and why it was widely associated with Our Lady and considered "lucky".
This set me off on intensive research into the folklore of ladybirds, a subject that I, too, discovered to be fascinating. After exhausting my local public library, I corresponded with the Folklore Society, the Natural History Museum in London and several experts on the subject and as I obtained new information I sent it on to Alice. And she received it gratefully, commented on it and pointed out further possibilities. We found that the Lady concerned was not the Virgin Mary, as had been supposed, but some early pagan goddess. I eventually lost the trail in Sweden and in India and, to my regret, I was never able to find sufficient time to get to the real root of the question Alice had asked.
In between our discussion of ladybirds we continued to write about paperfolding and Alice was most helpful in trying to answer my questions. I now realise that I had become involved in the two main interests in Alice's life: insects and origami. She was happiest when the two subjects were combined as they were in some of the beautiful origami insects that she created.
Alice was an entomologist before she was a paperfolder. To the end of her
life entomology was her first vocation and paperfolding remained a hobby,
yet a hobby to which she became increasingly devoted.
Alice's early years
Alice took the advice given and went to Cornell University to study biology and entomology. At the suggestion of Frank Lutz, the Chairman of the Insects and Spiders Department, she also studied public speaking, scientific illustration and feature-story writing, all of which were to come in useful, not only in her chosen career but also in her second career as a paperfolder.
Alice's determination paid off and on 1st October 1937 she entered the doors of the Museum of Natural History as an entomologist. The Museum remained her employer for the rest of her long working life; in fact, it became her real home, because, although she had her own home where she went to sleep at nights, she was never happier than in the Museum.
After starting work with menial tasks like cleaning out cases of insects that had gathered dust of thirty years, Alice moved on to scientific illustration, making beeswax models of insects. She clearly had an aptitude for this kind of work because she was finally placed in the Museum's public relations department where illustrations and models were an essential part of communicating the wonders of the insect world to the public.
Alice's shyness was, at first, a big handicap, but she suddenly realised that her audiences were not watching her to see where she might go wrong; they were more concerned about what Alice thought of them. From then on she never looked back and instead of primary research into insects, Alice found herself educating the public about insects, going out to schools and public meetings as well as making the exhibits in the museum so attractive that people could not resist coming to study them. So invaluable did she make herself to the Museum that although she was allowed leave to study for her Ph.D. at Berkeley, California, she was called back prematurely in order to prepare the insect exhibits for a new Hall of Invertebrates which was being set up, showing the insects in the surroundings in which they normally lived.
To help her with her work, Alice kept a small zoo of cockroaches and other insects in her office at the Museum, which she took round on her visits to schools. But apart from living insects, she collected the kind of insect trivia she was later to ask me to look out for: fabrics, toys, greetings cards, jewellery and the like. Her eyes were constantly on the lookout for insect-related items.
It was in this way that Alice first became acquainted with origami. She
saw a book with a cicada on the cover and promptly bought it. It turned out
to be a Japanese book of paperfolding, containing not only the traditional
cicada folded in paper, but also a dragonfly folded from the bird base She
managed to fold the cicada, the first origami model she ever learned. But
the dragonfly took longer and Alice had to struggle to discover how to fold
even the initial bird base. By the time she had finished she had developed
a taste for origami and she mentioned it in a letter to a young girl in Japan
with whom she was corresponding about butterflies. The Japanese girl replied
by sending Alice another Japanese origami book accompanied by a scrapbook
containing folded examples of all the models in the book. It clinched Alice's
interest in paperfolding, and she thought, like so many people at that time,
that the number of models was finite and that if she persisted she would
be able to make a complete collection of origami models.
Alice Gray meets Lillian Oppenheimer
It was not until some time after Alice Gray became interested in paperfolding that she heard about Lillian Oppenheimer. In 1962 Lillian and Shari Lewis wrote "Folding Paper Puppets" and Lillian was invited to talk about the book on television. She took with her a collection of folded models made by Guisseppe Baggi, the Italian showman, who was a frequent visitor to the Origami Center. So well was she received that the viewers asked for more and Lillian was asked back several times in subsequent weeks. She became known to the camera crews as the "Origami Lady".
The week after Lillian had appeared on television in June 1963, Alice went to the same studio as guardian of a huge, but amiable tarantula spider who had been somewhat unkindly cast in the part of the villain in a horror show. During the inevitable periods of waiting Alice filled her time with origami. The camera crew commented that she should have been there the previous week when they had had the Origami Lady with them. This, surprisingly, was the first that Alice had heard of Lillian Oppenheimer and at the time thought little of it.
A week or two later a cousin who was staying with Alice asked for her help with a teacher's retirement party. Alice suggested that the decorations should be done with origami and a circus theme was decided upon. They particularly wanted a giraffe, and although a photograph of an origami giraffe appeared in Samuel Randlett's "Art of Origami" which had been published fairly recently, in 1961, there were no instructions for it in the book. It was, in fact, a giraffe by Akira Yoshizawa which had appeared in the exhibition of paperfolding at the Cooper Union Museum in 1959. Alice decided to ring the museum to ask if they could help. The Cooper Union Museum's reply was to suggest that Alice got in touch with Lillan Oppenheimer and they gave her telephone number.
This second mention of Lillian Oppenheimer in two weeks seemed to Alice to be pointing towards something that was predestined and inevitable. She telephoned Lillian and to her surprise Lillian there and then invited her to come to dinner.
Alice arrived at Lillian's home, not without some anxiety about meeting the Origami Lady. But her anxiety melted away before the warmth and the welcome she received from the diminutive Lillian, who produced for her one of her gourmet meals. That summer Lillian had arranged an exhibition of folding at the "Gallery 100" in Princeton, New Jersey and the models, including many by Akira Yoshizawa and still carefully wrapped in tissue paper had just been returned. Lillian opened box after box of the most wonderful origami models. She then opened the drawers of an antique chest to disclose thousands of paper models that had been sent to Lillian from all over the world. Alice realized that this was a living, developing art that merited further study. It was apparent that the collection badly needed to be organized and referenced, so precipitately, Alice pledged to apply her taxonomic skills as an entomologist to the problem. It was the start of her second career. It was the start, too, of a warm friendship that was to last for almost thirty years.
Alice became one of the regular visitors to Lillian's apartment. There was
much work to be done to sort out the collection and to devise a classification
system, but Alice and Lillian started at once. Already the issue of the Origamian
for autumn 1963 carried a front page article reporting progress and an outline
of the special system of classification which had been decided upon. In fact,
however, it turned out to be a mammoth task upon which they had embarked
and one which it would never entirety be possible to complete. There was
so much else to be done, much more than Alice ever envisaged when she rashly
A new editor for the Origamian
In June 1964, Peter van Note, the executive editor of the Origamian, found that the pressure of his business compelled him to resign. Then at almost the same time, Adolfo Cerceda decided to return to Europe and to give up his position as art director of the Origamian, for which he had been responsible for drawing most of the diagrams. The double blow left Lillian in a desperate situation and as a temporary measure she asked Alice to stand in until replacements could be found. On the basis that this would only be a limited arrangement, Alice agreed. But year after year passed by and replacements were never found. Before long Alice had to accept that she was now the de facto permanent editor and art director of the Origamian. This was recognized from the issue of the Origamian for spring, 1965, in which Alice Gray's name appeared at the head of the front page as the official Editor.
Alice's editorship actually began with the Origamian for autumn 1964 although there is no written indication of her contribution. But a comparison of the diagrams before and after this issue show a distinct change of style from that of Adolfo Cerceda. Few, if any readers of the Origamian realized how much effort was being put in by Alice. She not only drew most of the diagrams but she also wrote many of the articles. It was here that Alice's training in scientific illustration and feature writing and her long experience of communication at the Museum made editorship second nature to her, even if she had to adapt her skills to a new subject and even if the hard work remained. The first issue in which her initial appeared at the foot of a diagram was in the Origamian for summer 1966 when she helped Kent du Pré with the diagrams for his contribution. Not until Volume 12, a composite issue that came out in the autumn of 1973, did Alice begin to place her conjoined monogram AG at the foot of her drawings. Her contribution and drawing skills deserve to be much more widely recognized by other paperfolders than they have been.
Alice began to travel with Lillian on visits to other paperfolders. On 23rd May 1970 they travelled to London to meet the members of the British Origami Society at their Spring Convention. It was held that year at the Vienna Cafe in an arcade off Baker Street and Lillian and Alice received a rapturous welcome. Alice was already handicapped by her increasing deafness but was at the centre of a constant circle of admirers. Strangely, however, there is only the briefest of references to the event in British Origami.
In January 1972 Alice travelled by herself to California to visit her brother John. She took the opportunity of arranging a party for all those West Coast folders whose names were so familiar, many having contributed to The Origamian. Those who came included John Nordquist and John Andreas who had been paperfolders since before the Origami Center was founded. They also included Francis McNaul, Louise Cooper, Bill Warner and Lewis Simon. It was a highly successful party and everyone felt it must be repeated as soon as possible. The outcome was that Bill Warner and Louise Cooper formed the West Coast Origami Guild, which became very active with Bill Warner as secretary. It was the first major daughter society of the Origami Center in the United States and it continues today as the senior west coast society. Its inception was one of the achievements of Alice Gray that has never been adequately acknowledged.
Lillian and Alice continued their travels together, although these ventures
were not always publicised. This certainly applied to a visit they made to
Japan in the summer of 1973. Such an event might have been expected to have
interested all paperfolders but Alice did not even think to mention it in
the Origamian. We do not know who were the Japanese folders they visited.
We may presume that Lillian would not fail to visit Akira Yoshizawa and Toshie
Takahama but this is conjecture. Fortunately Gloria Farison of Cincinnati
was studying origami with Tyoaki Kawai at the time and has left an account
of how she met Lillian and Alice when they came to see Kawai. We know, too,
that they also met Kunihiko Kasahara and It was probably on this tour that
Alice and Lillian also visited Hong Kong where they met Philip Shen at his
A Tree for Christmas
One innovation by Alice has certainly received widespread and well-deserved publicity. This is the happy tradition of Origami Christmas Trees. Alice began in a small way when, for a change, she dressed a small tree for her own home, using origami insects for decoration. Just when this was we do not know, but it seems likely that it was before she met Lillian Oppenheimer. Another year she also decorated a small tree for her own office at the Museum. Then she went on to prepare a tree for the Entomology Department. Again we do not know when, except that it was certainty before Christmas 1964. The quite small Origami Christmas tree in the Entomology Department became a regular event and was looked forward to by the Museum staff and Museum's visitors. The Museum Directors, too, liked the tree for its own sake, although they could probably see its value for public relations. They asked Alice to decorate a bigger tree to stand under the lofty cupola in the main vestibule of the Museum. Alice readily agreed, expecting a tree perhaps six feet high. She was aghast when a monster of a tree 25 feet tall was delivered; and she almost gave up when she considered the enormous task it called for. But Alice's determination won through and she quickly recruited Museum staff and their relatives to help to fold the huge numbers of models required. Then she went to her friends at the Origami Center and she sought the help of boy and girl scouts and anyone else who could be pressed to join in. It is amazing that the feat should be completed, but completed it was and the annual Origami Christmas tree has now become an established tradition at the American Museum of Natural History with a large Christmas tree being created anew every Christmas time.
It was a tradition that quickly spread as other folders offered to decorate other trees. Michael Shall helped Alice in the Museum for many years, and in addition he began to decorate a tree for Japan Air Lines. All over America origami trees were decorated and the fashion spread abroad, to Britain, where a tree was decorated for the London Office of Japan Air Lines and then to Holland where Marieke de Hoop organised the decoration of another 25 foot tree in Utrecht. Michael Shall crossed the Atlantic to help her. Then in 1993 Marieke organised an even bigger tree, the biggest in the world at 45 feet high in a shopping centre at Eindhoven. Decorations were requested from paperfolders all over the world and once more Michael Shall came to help. So the Origami Christmas trees have become an international tradition and one of the most potent advertisements for origami. They all originated from the small tree in Alice's home soon after she discovered paperfolding. They are Alice's gift to the world and will forever be her memorial.
Four years after she had visited Japan, Alice became the co-author of a book with Kasahara, although no meeting took place between them for the purpose. Japan Publications, who had offices in both Tokyo and the United States approached the Origami Center with a request for help in preparing a book of origami aimed at American primary schools. The book they suggested was one that had already been written by Kasahara. Lillian and Alice considered that the book was unsuitable: "Too academic, with too many words and not enough models." was their verdict. The publishers agreed to a new book for which Alice and Lillian would choose half of the models and Kasahara the other half. Then Kasahara drew the diagrams and Alice wrote the text and instructions for folding. After careful preparation Alice sent the manuscript back to Japan expecting to receive proofs for correction. But the publisher seemed to be under pressure to get the book published and omitted the proof reading stage, with the result that the first copy Alice received was a printed and bound copy ready for sale.
The book was called "The Magic of Origami" and was published in 1977. Alice was badly disappointed to find that it contained numerous and baffling errors, sometimes reaching utter confusion. The most Alice could do was to ask the publishers to issue a correction sheet. In fact, Alice probably over-reacted, like a parent finding fault with her own child. Most of the errors were ones of spelling and grammar and they did not spoil the book for other people. The correction sheet was supplied by the publisher and eventually in 1985 a revised edition was issued as a paperback. A special feature was that "The Magic of Origami" contained many folds suitable for use as Christmas tree ornaments. Alice had long felt a need for such a book and it remains an excellent manual for decorators of Origami Christmas trees.
The erosion of passing time
In the Origamian, Volume 13, issue 4, which was issued at the beginning of 1978, "The Magic of Origami" was given as a reason for the delay in publication of the journal. The fact was, however, that Alice was finding it increasingly difficult to maintain regular publication. On several occasions sometimes two, sometimes three issues of the Origamian had been combined, so breaking the regularity of publication. This happened again to issues 2, 3 and 4 of Volume 12 which were devoted to Pat Crawford and published as a single issue in October 1973. The front page carried a note of apology from Alice, and from that issue all pretence of an issue date was abandoned. The Origamian continued to be published but on an irregular basis.
The fault was not that of Alice alone. Both Alice and Lillian were reaching an age when they were ready to hand over the reins. But this was something that was very difficult in an organisation that had no formal administrative structure and no natural succession. The problem of succession increasingly worried both Alice and Lillian.
Fortunately the solution provided itself. Hermann Shall, an early origami friend of Lillian had a son, Michael who had trained as a teacher. Michael came to live in New York and became a frequent visitor to the Origami Center. He could see that the Origami Center needed to be reorganised and he looked for his example to the British Origami Society, which was administered by a council elected by its members. Lillian was reluctant to change until 1975 when Michael conceived the idea of the "Associates of the Origami Center". This would not replace the Origami Center, but would be a separate members organisation, which would give support to the Origami Center and which would, when the time was appropriate, be ready to take over its functions. Lillian began to listen, but discussion took years rather than months. Lillian was eventually convinced, but only after several years of hesitation. At last, in an issue of the Origamlan published in September 1979 (Volume 13, Nos. 1 and 2) Alice Gray was able to give a detailed outline of the new proposals. Alice had clearly been involved in the negotiations, even if the driving force had been Michael Shall. The proposals were revolutionary and involved the formation of a legally constituted corporate body with a regular membership, and with the possibility of achieving tax-exempt status.
For the spring of 1980 it was decided to call another American Convention,
which would be the first since 1978. Earlier conventions, which were quite
small gatherings, had annually been held at Lillian's apartment, although
in 1974, when Fred Rhom's wife was ill, it had been decided to hold a convention
at Williamsport, Pennsylvania where Fred lived, to make it easier for him
to attend. Fred's attendance was considered to be essential at the early
conventions of the Origami Center and the arrangements were made from New
York by Alice. The following May, 1975, the convention was held at Harrisburg,
also in Pennsylvania, because Michael Shall's aunt, Goldie Karmer, who had
been at the Williamsport Convention offered to make the arrangements there,
again, because it would also be convenient for Fred.
How the Friends of the Origami Center were formed
The venue chosen for the Convention in 1980 was the Education Hall of the American Museum of Natural History. Alice's presence in the Museum had continued to strengthen the Museum's sympathetic attitude to paperfolding and the Convention took place there from 11th to 13th April. One of the Museum's huge exhibition cases, 35 feet long, was filled with Origami models and we can be sure that Alice, with her many years experience in arranging natural history exhibits in the same cases, was the organiser of this. On the Sunday morning plans for the new organisation to be called *The Friends of the Origami Centre of America", were outlined at a special meeting. A "working committee" was set up, and Alice was appointed to be a member. The Working Committee met quickly on 23rd April and appointed a provisional board of directors for the new organisation, which it was agreed should be formally incorporated. Lillian declined to accept nomination, but Alice was appointed and gave the necessary continuity with the Origami Center. The formalities of forming the new corporate body and obtaining tax-exempt status proceeded slowly, despite the enthusiasm of the committee and it was not until 28th January 1981 that this was granted. This enabled plans for the first Annual General Meeting to be made and it was arranged to take place the next April. First, however, the Spring Convention of the British Origami Society was to take place at Keble College, Oxford. Alice, accompanied by Michael Shall and Lore Schirokauer, decided to visit England for the Convention. They gave the British folders an enthusiastic report on the progress made in the formation of the Friends and Michael Shall urged the British Society to seek similar tax-exempt status. Alice's deafness handicapped her, but everyone was delighted to see her.
It was the last time she visited England. The American Convention was arranged to take place three weeks later, on 26th and 27th April, 1981 and once again the venue was at the American Museum of Natural History. Alice, Michael and Lore brought greetings from the British Origami Society. A new Board of Directors of the Friends was elected at the first Annual General Meeting, which was held during the weekend, and Alice was elected to the Board. Shortly afterwards the new Board met and appointed Robert Neale to be its President and Mlchael Shall to be the Executive Director. Alice Gray was able to report this significant achievement in the next issue of the Origamian, which appeared that summer. Apart from being a director, Alice continued to be fully immersed in paperfoldlng. Later in 1981 she organised a free introductory course in paperfolding at the Museum. With Michael Shall she arranged a huge mobile of peace doves to hang in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York. The setting up of the Friends had re-invigorated her enthusiasm for origami, perhaps because it brought with it the confidence that, when Lillian would no longer be there to run the Origami Center, the continuity of paperfolding in New York would be ensured. For ten years or more Alice's cockroaches had to share her office with an increasing number of origami insects and the other clutter of paperfolding. It became a small origami centre in its own right. Alice was held in great esteem and affection by many people.
This was never shown better than when some unknown person made a donation of $500 to the Friends to make Alice a "Friend" for life. She was greatly moved by the compliment; but practical person that she was, she had her lifetime membership card laminated in plastic because, as she said, "I'II never get another!" Despite the esteem with which Alice was held in the Museum, she had by now reached normal retirement age and could not expect to go on forever. She formally retired as a permanent museum employee, but such was her love of the Museum that she continued to attend on an informal basis. Nevertheless, she could not expect to occupy her office forever. Michael Shall took a bold initiative, and when to the Museum authorities asked if the Friends would be prepared to provide some giant origami dinosaurs for a big fundraising event, he seized the opportunity to negotiate a right for the Friends to occupy Alice's old office for five years from July 1983 in exchange for the dinosaurs! So the Friends were at last able to move from their temporary base at Lillian's apartment and establish their own "Home Office". It meant too, that there would be space for Lillian's library and other collections to have a permanent home whenever she might decide to hand them over to the Friends. Not least, but probably not intended, it meant that Alice could still legitimately occupy her old office in the Corner Tower of the Museum. In fact, when she retired from the Museum she continued to spend much of her time there.
The Origamian continued to have a nominal existence although no issue had appeared for over two years. The intention was that the Friends would take over the Origamian from the Origami Center, but first Alice would prepare one more issue. It was a grand issue of 16 pages and profiled the Shall brothers, David, Donald and Michael on the front page. Inside was a long report of a panel meeting on creativity held at the American Museum of Natural History on 29th April 1984. Alice made her own contribution setting out her own vigorous ideas on the subject. The issue came out about the beginning of 1985 and the Friends took responsibility for future production. When the Friends were formed a newsletter had been started to keep Friends informed of progress. By now, however, it was developing into a full magazine and there seemed no purpose in having two magazines. After the last Origamian edited by Alice no more issues appeared and the series of Origamians remain as a monument to her industry and one of her gifts to the posterity of paperfolding. In 1985, now aged 70, Alice accepted appointment as President to the Board of the Friends. Unlike the Presidency of the British Origami Society, it was not an honorary appointment and she was expected to take the chair at meetings and to oversee the running of the Friends. She was still able to take a full and active part and had effectively taken over from Lillian as the head of the American paperfolding movement.
The Friends' Newsletter for the Summer of 1987 shows a joyful photograph
of Lillian and Alice together, speaking at the Convention held at the Museum
of Natural History at the beginning of May. Despite her apparent vigour,
Alice was not well and in 1987 she underwent an operation to replace a heart
valve. Happily she made a good recovery and went to convalesce with her brother
John at Santa Anna, California, the same brother she had stayed with long
ago in 1972 when she had met the west coast folders and encouraged them to
form their own Guild. The Friends showed their affection by folding more
than a thousand cranes, the traditional Japanese symbol of good wishes and
the Newsletter carried a photograph of a radiant Alice holding her "Thousand
Alice Gray gains a son, and the Friends gain a new president
While she was in California, Alice considered whether the time had come for her to resign the Presidency, but she eventually decided to continue. She was able to lead the Friends at the following Convention in June 1988 when Akira Yoshizawa was the guest of honour. Lillian was there, too, to greet her old friend whom she had first met in Japan almost thirty years before when the Origami Center was only a few months old.
It was, however, to be Alice's last Convention. She resumed her place at Board meetings and continued to visit the "Home Office" as before. But the following spring she fell and broke her hip and was again confined to hospital. This time she did not hesitate to send In her resignation. It arrived on 14th May 1989. Alice recommended that Michael Shall should be appointed President in her place, a recommendation the Board was happy to accept. Then, at their following meeting on 1st June, the Board appointed Alice to be President Emerita of The Friends, a distinction which is so far unique. Alice assured The Friends that she would continue as a director and expressed the hope that she would soon return to play a full and active part. Sadly, this was never to be.
The agreement under which the Friends held the "Home Office" from the Museum provided that the Museum could at any time move the Friends to another part of the building and in the spring of 1989, the time came when Alice's old office was needed. The Friends were given another room, a little smaller, on the fourth floor. Everything was fitted in and the work of the "Home Office" went on as before, even if the situation was not as splendid as it had been in the Corner Tower. It did, however, mark the end of an era; and Alice's old room was no longer the home of Origami.
Alice did not make the progress that was hoped for and she suffered some minor strokes. She remained in Norwalk Hospital, where she continued to welcome visitors. After having served ten years on the Board, that summer it was announced that she had resigned. Alice moved to a nursing home in Norwalk. Michael Shall regularly kept the Friends informed of her progress and urged them to visit her, when they would be greeted with a shining welcome. Michael was devoted to Alice and he looked after her like a son.
The end came quickly on 27th April 1994 and the news rapidly travelled around the world as her friends in many countries passed it on to each other. Alice was mourned in every country where origami had taken root. She had given her own personal gifts to paperfolders which complemented, but were quite different from those of Lillian Oppenheimer.
Alice was a wonderful organiser. Her work at the American Museum of Natural History was proof enough of that and she carried her abilities with her into the Origami World. As might be expected, underneath her warm personality there was a very strong person and, if needs be, Alice could be very firm in ensuring that things were done correctly and well. At the Museum she often taught junior entomologists, and in talks, demonstrations and also field expeditions she handled them lightly but firmly. She had a wonderful ability to encourage people to bring out their best. As a teacher of paperfolding she encouraged people to look for and find their own solutions to problems: it was how she worked herself, whether it was a matter of administration at the Museum or in creating a new paper model.
Alice was an exquisite folder of paper. She had a keen sense of design and layout, which she had developed over many years of preparing exhibits in display cases at the museum and she brought these qualities to her paperfolding. Her folding of fruit and flowers but chiefly of insects was beautifully delicate. Her flowers, even when they were made from the traditional lily, showed an elegant grace which many envied. There is no wonder that the creations of the Argentinean folder, Ligia Montoya were among her favourites.
Alice was a creator of new models, too, but not a prolific one. Of course she created insects and flowers, but her range of models was diverse and ranged from a cover for Kleenex tissue boxes to an impressive Aardvark. She said that her favourite model of her own creation was a Christmas tree ornament, in the style of Lillian Oppenheimer's daughter Molly Khan, which she called a lemon. Yet Alice was modest enough to admit that Philip Shen had improved her model. Her creative technique was to look for the distinctive features of her proposed subjects in other models and try to combine them. Or she would set a frustrating model aside for a while and the solution would sometimes come in her sleep. It is to be hoped that someone will gather all of Alice's models together and publish them as a tribute to her.
In retrospect, Alice was one of the key people in the history of modem origami. She spanned both the heyday of the Origami Center in the 1960s and the vital formative years of The Friends of the Origami Center in the 1970s and 1980s. Her office at the American Museum of Natural History provided a vital link of continuity between the two organisations and also enabled the Friends to take over the extensive library and collections of the Origami Center. The Origami Christmas Tree, which was her own creation, provided a beacon for paperfolding, which spread out beyond the Natural History Museum into New York and beyond that into the wider world. Without Alice it would not have been remotely possible for origami to find a permanent home for the Friends of such prestige, convenience and influence.
But these are mere technical details. Their benefits remain. Alice too, with her warmth of personality, will remain in the hearts of every folder who knew her or was touched by her. As we turn from looking from the past to looking towards the future, we see her, still giving her encouragement amidst the members of that vigorous young organisation, which we now know as OrigamiUSA.
Originally printed in British Origami, no. 168, October, 1994.
Revised in 2001 and 2003.
© David Lister 1994, 2001, 2003. Back to the index