Origami Day

Origami Day occurs annually on 11 November to to commemorate American origami pioneer Lillian Oppenheimer Who popularized origami in the West during the 1950s, and is credited with popularizing the Japanese term origami in English-speaking circles. Oppenheimer was born to a Jewish family of Austrian, Hungarian, and Czech origin, the daughter of Bernard Vorhaus, an attorney who made a living importing furs. Oppenheimer is the mother of William, Molly, Rosaly, Martin, and Joseph. The three sons were all prominent mathematicians which may have inspired Lilian to apply these mathmatical principals to folding paper in order to create exact geometric shapes.

Origami (折り紙, comes from the word ori meaning “folding”, and kami meaning “paper” (kami changes to gami due to rendaku)) is the art of paper folding, which is often associated with Japanese culture. In modern usage, the word “origami” is used as an inclusive term for all folding practices, regardless of their culture of origin. The goal is to transform a flat square sheet of paper into a finished sculpture through folding and sculpting techniques. Modern origami practitioners generally discourage the use of cuts, glue, or markings on the paper. Origami folders often use the Japanese word kirigami to refer to designs which use cuts, although cutting is more characteristic of Chinese papercrafts.

The small number of basic origami folds can be combined in a variety of ways to make intricate designs. The best-known origami model is the Japanese paper crane. In general, these designs begin with a square sheet of paper whose sides may be of different colors, prints, or patterns. Traditional Japanese origami, which has been practiced since the Edo period (1603–1867), has often been less strict about these conventions, sometimes cutting the paper or using nonsquare shapes to start with. The principles of origami are also used in stents, packaging and other engineering applications.

The art of folding paper has accompanied traditions and celebrations of every kind, including funerals, birthdays, and more. The first actual reference to a paper model is in a poem, which somehow seems appropriate given that such things are traditionally written on paper. In that poem, a butterfly design was referenced in connection to Shinto weddings, but that’s just one of many ways that these designs were used.

In Europe, it was napkin folding that was all the rage, a tradition which was abundant during the 17th and 18th centuries as a sign of being a good host or hostess. Sadly, this particular tradition was going to fade out and become nearly forgotten until recently, when it’s beginning to see something of a resurgence. When Japan opened its borders in the late 1800’s, they started incorporating German paper folding techniques and the two techniques were combined. Recently Origami has been used as a beacon of hope, with the tradition of folding a thousand cranes being done for people who are in the hospital fighting cancer.

Oppenheimer’s use of the word Origami gradually supplanted the literal translation of paper folding that had been used earlier. In the 1960s she co-wrote several popular books on origami with Shari Lewis. Lillian Oppenheimer also ran an informal group of dedicated folders in the New York City area, and in 1978 she co-founded, with Alice Gray and Michael Shall, the non-profit Friends of the Origami Center. After Oppenheimer’s death, it was renamed OrigamiUSA. As of 2016 it is the largest origami organization in the United States.

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