The Lister List

Modular Origami

Carol Sy says that she is interested in modular origami like that of the swan and pineapple. She asks if there are any books that deal with this kind of origami.

She must be refering to the kind of modular paperfolding that was practised by the asylum seekers who landed in the United States from the ship "Golden Venture".

I saw models of the swan and pineapple and also a magnificent sailing ship at the exquisite exhibition at the Pacific Coast Origami Conference held in San Francisco in the autumn of 1997. I was most impressed by the models and took photographs which I still have.

In correspondence in Origami -L in April and May 1996, there was a brief discussion about this kind of folding. There was an exhibition at the Musum of Chinese Art in the Americas, 70 Mulberry Stree, Manhattan, which had an exhibition of work by the asylum seekers. It was due to close on 10th may 1996 and reopen in Philadelphia a week later. The exhibition was called "Fly to Freedom: The Art of the Golden Venture Refugees". I understand that most of the refugees eventually lost their application for asylum and were returned to China. It is not known what happened to them

Some people thought at the time that this was a spontaneous art form invented by the asylum seekers diruing their detention to while away the time. However, it later became apparent that it was a traditional Chinese handicraftt. (Therefore it probably shouldn't be called by the Japanese word "origami".)

Incidentally, this is one aspect of Chinese paperfolding that has not been mentioned in the recent correspondence about Chinese paperfolding in Origami- L. The fact that it existed, apparently without paperfolders in the West being aware of it make one wonder what other paperfodlding riches are waiting to be discovered in the vast nation of China.

So far as I know there is no book about this particular knd of modular folding However, in a posting to origami-L dated 1st may 1996 Karen Reeds ( gave a long description of the technique (necessarily, but regrettably without diagrams). If there is, in fact, no book about the technique, then there ought to be!

Dale Gregory of the American Musum of Folk Art in New York, a friend of Gay Gerrill Gross, took an interest in the Golden Venture Refugees and their art and she wrote an article which was published in the magazine of the Museum in about 1996. I'm sorry that I do not immediately have my copy handy to give the precise reference.

I understand that in theory the tiny V-shaped folded paper modules are fitted together without glue, and so they will be in simple models. But it is very improbable that larger models like the sailing ship and especially the swan with its long curved neck could be built up without glue.

I m anxious to know as much as possible about this form of paperfolding construction and about the Golden Venture Refugees. Would Carol Sy tell us how she came to ask about it?

David Lister

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