By Toni W. Riley
Anyone who has made a paper airplane has participated in the ancient art of paper folding, better known as origami.
Composed of the Japanese words oru (to fold) and kami (paper), origami has a rich and complex history that spans culture, class and geography. This art form is having a resurgence, especially with the origami crane serving as a symbol of happiness and being a popular wedding favor.
Origami began in Asia after paper was first invented in China around 105 A.D. Monks brought it to Japan in the sixth century. During that time, paper folding was for ceremonial purposes only.
In the 17th century, origami became recreational in Japan and began to show multiple cuts and folds. Paper folding began to flourish as a new art form with the advent of affordable mass-produced paper.
The Froebel method of child education used paper folding both as a way of teaching children geometry and encouraging artistic creativity. German Jews fleeing the holocaust brought this education method using paper folding to the United States.
Lillian Oppenheimer, a native New Yorker, is credited with bringing origami to the west. Lillian began paper folding in 1950 after her children were grown and the death of her husband. She considered paper folding an art form, and she developed the Origami Center for America, which is still an excellent source for origami information and patterns.
Origami is a precise craft, as Karen Shields, retired Holiday Elementary School principal, found out when her grandson, Hugh, taught her and his cousin, Claire, how to make an origami snowflake.
Hugh, 12, has been creating origami sculptures since he was 9. He loves tactile arts and colors, and origami was a perfect craft to merge both of these talents.
“It takes lots of patience,” he said. Karen laughed as she quickly added that patience was one thing the Shields family did possess in high quantities.
Hugh said good quality paper is important to making crisp folds. Colored copy paper works fine, but 12-inch scrap book paper is nice because of its size, he said.
Hugh became interested in origami the first time he made a paper hat, and it just “morphed” into bigger projects. His first “official” project was a paper crane, a one-unit project, which means it is made out of one sheet of paper. He’s consistently working on bigger projects, making a 120-unit wreath as a gift for his dad, Marc. This project should take him 10-12 hours to complete.
Hugh, who is self taught, said anyone can make origami. He watches videos on YouTube to learn how to complete origami projects. He would follow the directions, pause the video, then work, pause, then work until the project was completed. There are websites that have diagrams, but he found the videos easier to learn from. He also noted that there is math involved in origami and there are websites that show the math concepts.
He told Karen and Claire that pre-folding was very important and that helped set the pattern into the project. He showed them how to fold and crease the wax paper into crisp edges with their fingernails. As she worked, Karen noted that her manual dexterity left something to be desired.
As they worked, Hugh encouraged Karen and Claire and continually showed them why the precision of the creases was so vital to having an attractive project. When asked what it was like to be on the learning side of a project instead of teaching, Karen laughed and said it was fun being a student, and the student had to depend on the teacher to give good directions, and to model what they needed to do to complete the product, which Hugh was successfully doing.
There were oo’s and ah’s as the snowflakes began to take shape in front of them. Karen, who is an avid quilter, remarked that there were similarities between quilting and origami, especially following precise directions.
As Karen compared her snowflake to the one Hugh had used as an example, she saw how the points on her stars weren’t as precise as Hugh’s. It’s more difficult that you might think, she noted.
Origami can be an inexpensive craft for children who like precision, but it can also be a craft to help children learn to focus and follow directions. To learn more about origami as a craft, visit www.origami-resource-center.com, make-origami.com and origami-fun.com. Type in origami on YouTube to find helpful videos.
By Toni W. Riley