"He showed me a little thing the size of a hazelnut in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with my mind's eye and thought, 'What can this be?' And the answer came, 'It is all that is made."
- Dame Julian of Norwich (born 1342)
Paperfolding has a storied history steeped in symbolism and meaning. As Buddhism was spreading across Japan, the relatively new technology of papermaking made it possible to quickly and accurately disseminate the holy writings to more and more people.
Given the sacredness of this text, the only paper that was deemed appropriately respectful was the purest, finest white paper that could be made. This, plus the possibly coincidental but auspicious similarity in pronunciation between the Japanese word for paper and the word for God-in-all-things (both pronounced “kami”) made a cultural connection between paper and spirituality.
One of the most famous examples of the power of origami and social change through community art creation was the Thousand Cranes of Sadako, a young girl who died of radiation poisoning after the nuclear catastrophe at Hiroshima. Sadako used her final days to send happiness and peace to others through crane folding.
Her artmaking inspired others to continue to practice and led to the creation of an endowment to help other victims of radiation poisoning. As the Thousand Cranes project has spread, the benefit of repetitive folding reveals itself: to empty one’s mind of busy thoughts and focus in on the rhythm of folds can encourage our own sense of peace.
Given the ubiquitous nature of paper nowadays, paper folding has become one of the most inclusive, accessible forms of fine art. We generally all have access to some sort of scrap paper, and the objects we can fold can be modulated to match our physical, mental, and logistical capacities.
An adaptation to origami, called “Pureland” by British paper folder John Smith, limits steps to simple Mountain and Valley folds and is intended to bring the beauty of origami to folks with impaired motor or cognitive flexibility.
If you are interested in learning more about origami, the American Origami Society (origamiusa.org) has a wonderful website that invites you to start at your own pace, with your own intention. The Omaha Public Library has some beautiful books on paper folding, including fine artists such as Akira Yoshizawa or Paul Jackson. However you approach origami, you can find something that speaks to you. Have fun!