The Lister List

Old European Origami 2

In his posting of yesterday, 26th August, David Cohen comments on my own posting on the subject of "Old European Origami" sent as long ago as 20th August. in response to an enquiry by Kevin Kinney. Perhaps I may be permitted to add yet more to my original posting, by way of comment.

I think David is right, in suggesting that 150 years or so ago, paperfolds were just "one-offs". In fact, I don't think that there was any clear concept of paper-FOLDING as a separate activity. Paperfolding just merged into the general ragbag of papercrafts including paper-cutting, paper-construction, paper weaving and what is now called paper sculpture.

The use of bases was most certainly the central springboard for modern creative folding, even if its overuse eventually came to restrict creative paperfolding somewhat. Fortunately creative paperfolding was saved by the likes of Neal Elias, Fred Rohm and Eric Kenneway, who all had a healthy disrespect for standard bases. But bases _are_ important and they not only play a part in modern origami, but they also have their place in the historical development of paperfolding.

I used to think that the inception of bases was Margaret Campbell's, under her name: "Foundation Folds". If you study her book, "Paper Toy Making" (c. 1936) very carefully, you will perceive that she arrived at her concept of Foundation Folds half way through writing the book! What she should have done was to have gone back to rewrite the first half of the book in the light of her concept of Foundation Folds. (I should point out, however, that she was a very old lady and really only wrote her book for her grandchildren, not for publication.)

Robert Harbin openly said that he took his idea of basic folds from Margaret Campbell's Foundation Folds. So, with the publication of "Paper Magic" in 1956, the concept of bases emerged fully fledged. After discussion with Robert Harbin, Gershon Legman and others Sam Randlett formalised the organisation of bases for publication in The Art of Origami. Speaking personally, I don't go along with everything in Sam's scheme of things, but that's merely my personal opinion. In particular, I believe he erred by missing out the windmill base. But then, his ideas were dominated a perception that all basic folds were radial in form, and marshalled themselves in the series: kite - diamond - fish - bird - frog. Dr. Vicente Solorzano also recognised this and called the radial bases "deltoids". He raised them to the status of a science which he called "deltoidology"!

The windmill base doesn't fit into this scheme (except that I would point out that John Smith showed me how he had discovered that the bird base can be topologically transformed by rotation into the windmill base!) Robert Harbin, himself, in "Paper Magic" didn't identify the windmill as a basic fold, he did at least include it in that book under the guise of what he named the "Multiform". Sam included just a few traditional folds in "The Art of Origami" but they did not include the windmill or any othe the folds based on it. Regrettable, the effect of the omission, has been to blight western folding, because ever since, except in a few books, the windmill base has not been regarded as a "proper" base. Of course, in Hispanic countries the status of the Pajarita ensures that in those countries, the windmill, multiform (call it what you will!) has a higher status. (Sorry for that long diversion!)

But basic folds antedate even Margaret Campbell. In Japan, they can be seen in a form which combines them with heavy cutting in the Kayaragusa (Kan no mado) of about 1850. They appear again in Froebelian paperfolding, where they are given the name "ground forms" a name that is still used in German for basic folds. I doubt if Froebel used the term, but "ground forms" were central to the Froebel folding of the kndergartens. The pity is that the kindergartens didn't do anything more constructive with the ground forms than compile endless blintzed flower patterns. A great oportunity for real creativity in paperfolding was accordingly lost by the teachers ofFroebelian paperfolding. (It should be pointed out, however, that until the Flapping Bird was introduced to Europe about 1870, they had no notion about radial bases, which, despite what I have said, were the stimulus for much of modern creative paperfolding).

Both Akira Yoshizawa and Kosho Uchiyama employ basic folds in their books "Origami Tokuhon (1957) and Origami Zukan" (1958) and both show how transfomations of bases occur. Where they got the idea of bases from, I honestly don't know. I don't know enough about the few Japanese books of recreational origami that were published between 1850 and 1955 and I haven't yet analysed the photographs of models dating from this period that I brought back from Second meeting of Scientific Origami held at Otsu, Japan in November, 1994.

Yoshizawa was self-taught. His career closely parallels that of Segovia on the guitar. Of course, he may have picked up ideas from elsewhere, but the way he put them together was his own. As with Unamuno, his biggest breakthough was his discovery of the "sideways turn" in the bird base. Hitherto, in Japan, this had only been used in the traditional fold of a bird, which was known as "the Crow". (Not the same crow as in Harbin's "Paper Magic" page 51.) While nothing can be absolutely certain, I think it is highly unlikely that a knowledge of Unamuno's discoveries reached Yoshizawa. Unamuno's work was largely developed in Argentina. Yet, as David suggests, there _were_ Japanese present in Argentina in the early decades of the 20th Century and I suppose that therefore there was a two-way movement of people between Argentina and Japan. And I suppose that someone _could_ have taken information about Unamuno's folding and the sideways turn back to Japan, where it _could_ have reached Yoshizawa.........!

David mentions the Pyramids. At any rate, the Pyramids are pretty tangible, so we have _something_ to work on with them, unlikepaper and things made with paper which, unless carefuly preserved, detriorate in a matter of weeks. But look at the recent contoversy about whether the erosion of the base of the Sphinx was caused by water. If it was, it would indicate that the Sphinx was built at a time when Egypt had a wet climate and that would throw ancient Egyptian chronology into utter confusion!

We have to accept that history increasingly fades into the mists as we go backwards in time. The present century has see enormous clearance of the mists which conceal past ages, with astounding discoveries by archaeologists. For instance, before the 20th Century began, there was absolutely no knowledge or even concept of the Minoan civilaization. Our knowlege of the past has been vastly enlarged. But as we peel off one layer of mystery, so another is revealed. We can never get back to the naked singularity!

It is the same with the history as so humble a subject as paperfolding. But in the history of paperfolding we don't have even the pyramids to signpost our way.


David Lister Grimsby, England.

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