Origami: The Art of Paper Folding
In visual art, the Japanese term "Origami" (from the words "ori" meaning "folding", and "kami" meaning "paper") refers to the Japanese art of folding objects out of paper without cutting, glueing, pasting or marking. The goal of the origamist is to transform a flat sheet of paper into a finished model through the use of folding and sculpting techniques. One of the best-known origami shapes is the orizuru (from the words "ori" meaning "folded" and "tsuru" meaning "crane"), or paper crane. It represents the Japanese Red-crowned Crane bird which is revered in Japanese culture. The school of paper-folding that permits cuts in the paper is known in Japan as kirigami (from the words "kiru" meaning to cut, and "kami" meaning "paper"). Origami is the best-known form of paper-folding, but not necessarily the oldest. Traditional Chinese art has even more ancient roots than Japanese art, and the Chinese tradition of paper folding, known as "zhezhi", may be the original form. If so, it joins a long list of specialized crafts and exquisite decorative arts that first emerged in China and Japan, including Chinese lacquerware (4,500 BCE), jade carving (4900 BCE), bronze sculpture like the Sanxingdui Bronzes (1200 BCE), terracotta sculpture like the Chinese Terracotta Army (220 BCE), Chinese porcelain (c.600 CE), and Ukiyo-e woodblock prints (c.1670).
The history of paper folding is very murky, and no consensus exists as to when or where it was first practiced. Some art historians believe that origami was invented by the Japanese about 1000 CE, while there is documented evidence of traditional Japanese origami being practiced since the Edo period (16031867). However, others consider its origins to lie in Chinese art, not least because paper itself was reputedly first invented in China, during the era of Han Dynasty art, 206 BCE - 220 CE. In addition, certain traditional ceremonies in China (and Japan) included the burning of folded paper - a practice established during the Song Dynasty (905-1125 CE) in China, and the Heian period (7941185) in Japan. (Origami butterflies, for instance, were used in Shinto weddings to depict the bride and groom.) So a limited form of ceremonial paper folding appears to have taken root at this time, which may have been a precursor of origami or zhezhi. (See also: Chinese Art Timeline 18,000 BCE - present.)
Origami also emerged elsewhere in East Asia. Paper folding is also well known to Korean art, for instance, and in Korean schools. Known as Jong-i jeobgi, it is an important part of Korean culture. Finally, other historians think that paper-folding developed from the craft of folding cloth (pleating clothes, napkin folding), and as a result may have started in Europe rather than Asia. The details remain uncertain. All we know for sure is that there is no hard evidence that origami existed before 1600.
One reason why some art critics lean towards Japan as the original source of origami, is that by 1680, writings by the novelist and poet Ihara Saikaku suggest that paper-folding proper had already become fully integrated into Japanese culture. Indeed, one of the earliest known instruction books on how to fold paper was Hiden Senbazuru Orikata (Secret to Folding 1000 Cranes) (1797) by the Japanese expert Akisato Rito (1780-1814), who went on to write several other instruction manuals on origami, while producing a large number of beautiful and complex paper figures. Subsequently, several other master origamists emerged, such as Akira Yoshizawa (19112005) and Kosho Uchiyama (1912-98), both revered by many as the greatest artists of their time, whose work inspired a renaissance of the art form. Akira Yoshizawa was responsible for several important innovations, including the technique of wet-folding, as well as the YoshizawaRandlett diagramming system. Other Japanese master folders include Fumiaki Kawahata, Jun Maekawa, Meguro Toshiyuki and Issei Yoshino. The Japan Origami Academic Society is a particularly prestigious body in world paper folding.
As well as the Oriental tradition of origami, the folding of paper into decorative designs was also championed by the German educational expert Friedrich Froebel (17821852), who introduced it into the kindergarten movement that he began in the 19th century. In particular, he is associated with three specific paper folding techniques: the Folds of Life (simple folds for beginners); the Folds of Truth (which help to teach basic principles of geometry); and the Folds of Beauty (more complex folds using squares, hexagons, and octagons). These folds were first introduced into Japanese schools about 1880, which coincided with the coining of the term "origami" to describe paper-folding in Japan. German paper folding continued at the first Waldorf school set up in Stuttgart (1919) by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), which championed various types of arts and crafts. It was also practiced at the renowned Bauhaus school of design (191933), where it was used as a way of teaching architecture and forms of design, notably by the abstract artist Josef Albers (1888-1976).
Paper folding has also blossomed in Spain and South America. The Spanish writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (18641936) was a famous paper folder who did a huge amount to champion and popularize the craft. Paper folding also spread to South America, notably Argentina, where Vicente Solorzano Sagredo (18831970) was a master folder and the author of the leading Spanish books on paper folding.
The art of origami was not introduced properly to the United States until the 1950s, when origamist Lillian Oppenheimer (1898-1992) and children's entertainer Shari Lewis popularized it on TV. Later, during the 60s and early 70s, American paper folders Fred Rohm and Neal Elias developed a range of paper objects of unprecedented complexity. During the 80s they were joined by origami artists like Robert Lang, and John Montroll. During the early 90s Lang created two computer programs (TreeMaker and ReferenceFinder) to help with the precise folding of models. Other programs include TreeMaker and Oripa. See also: Computer art.
Origami books typically begin with an outline of basic origami techniques. This features diagrams of basic folds including: valley and mountain folds, reverse folds, squash folds, pleats and sinks. There are also a number of standard "bases", which can be used to make a wide range of models, such as the square base, bird base, fish base, and frog base.
Traditional Japanese origami paper, known as "Washi", is made from the bark of the gampi tree, the mitsumata shrub, or the paper mulberry but can also be made using bamboo or hemp. Tougher than ordinary paper made from wood pulp, it is used in several other traditional arts, including calligraphy. Other types of special papers include unryu, lokta, gampi, kozo, saa and abaca are also extremely strong.
Origami models not only include still-life objects, but also moving objects. This type of "Action Origami" includes models that fly, or, when finished, uses the kinetic energy of a person's hands to move another flap or limb: see also, Kinetic Art.
Here is a short selection of the foremost paper folders. listed in chronological order.
Akira Yoshizawa (1911-2005)
Ligia Montoya (1920-67)
Florence Maria Temko (1921-2009)
Humiaki Huzita (1924-2005)
Samuel L Randlett (b.1930)
Kunihiko Kasahara (b.1941)
Makoto Yamaguchi (b.1944)
Toshikazu Kawasaki (b.1955)
Eric Joisel (1956-2010)
Peter Engel (b.1959)
Robert J. Lang (b.1961)
Satoshi Kamiya (b.1981)
For more about arts and crafts in Japan, China and SE Asia, see: Homepage.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ASIAN ART