When I read on 28th December, 2007 of the tribute paid to V'ann Cornelius at the Escondito Facility of the Mingei Museum of San Diego, I was immensely glad for her. Yet, I also read that she was in a wheelchair and, I sensed that all was not well. I was shocked to learn how very quickly my anxieties materialized when I learned that she died on 8th January, 2008. I feel so sorry that she has departed from us so soon and at such an early age. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to her husband and children.
I first met V'Ann many years ago, when she and her husband visited England and attended a convention of the British Origami Society. To my regret, my memories of the earlier conventions of the Society now merge into one another and I remember little of the details of V'Ann's visit. Nevertheless, we were eventually to become good friends, through our mutual activity in Origami. I became a member of the private magazine or 'amateur press alliance' which became known as FOLD. There were only twenty members and each of us submitted a contribution every two months. These were put together as a book and it was distributed only to the twenty members. Apart from our own contributions, which were very diverse, we all wrote comments on one another's contributions, so we all came to know each other very well. In September, 1990, V'Ann also became a member, although, regrettably her membership was only quite short.
In her introduction to herself, V'Ann wrote that she became interested in Origami when she was in High School in 1957 to 1959. She found a book of paper sculpture in the school library and this lead her to paperfolding. However V'Ann's interest in origami greatly developed after she came across ''Complete Origami' by Eric Kenneway, which was published 1987. V'Ann's professional interest in education was in primary education and she was especially interested in the reading skills of children. To assist her in this of this she took a Master's Degree in developmental reading.
V'Ann's contributions to FOLD were founded in her interests in children's approaches to learning reading. She applied her understanding of the acquisition by children of reading skill to the way they acquired skill in paperfolding. She also wrote about teaching elementary geometry to children and the use of Origami for this.
Apart from FOLD, my acquaintance with V'Ann grew considerably as a result of the growing development of the Internet and in particular, the origami discussion group known as The Origami List (or more familiarly as 'Origami-L). We both became frequent contributors and often exchanged views and information between ourselves. V'Ann was an unending source of stimulating ideas and knowledge.
IEventually I met V'Ann again in person at two OUSA conventions in New York and at an OUSA Conference in San Francisco. The first occasion was in June, 1995 when John Smith and I had newly arrived in New York from England and were settling into our rooms before the convention started. V'Ann was the first person to come to our room to greet us very warmly. It was hard for us to realise that she, like us, had travelled thousands of miles to be there. We also visited her in her own room, along the corridor, where we found her deeply immersed in organising the convention with the help of her laptop computer.
I again came with John to New York for the Convention in June, 1997, where we met her once more, still busily engaged in administration. Then, later that year I attended the first Pacific Coast Origami Conference (PCOC), which was held in the Japanese area of San Francisco. As was to be expected, V'Ann was again busily immersed in the organization of the Conference. She was a born organizer!
Following my visit to San Francisco I travelled south to San Diego to visit Florence Temko. V'Ann lived nearby at Cardiff-by-the-Sea. At a Saturday afternoon meeting for local folders in a small local library near San Diego, I met many of the local folders. Thanks to V'Ann, and others, San Diego was to become a very active and creative centre for Origami and it continues to grow, to a great extent centring round the Mingei International Museum of World Folk Art. The Paper Arts are very much folk arts and the Museum had previously held an exhibition called 'Paper Innovations', of which I had somehow managed to obtain a copy of the accompanying booklet.
During my visit to San Diego, I was able, myself, to visit the Mingei Museum (or rather, it was the new Mingei Museum because it had recently been magnificently reconstructed.) It was wonderfully situated in Balboa Park just to the north of San Diego city. My immediate object was to inspect Florence Temko's splendid gift of origami books to the Museum. On this occasion there was no exhibition of origami taking place but apart from the books there were many interesting exhibits to inspect.
In 2003, the Mingei held its great "Origami Masterworks" exhibition. This was the finest exhibition of Origami, ever to have taken place. Nothing of this range or scale had ever been seen before, even taking account of the great exhibitions of the work of Yoshizawa in Japan. V'Ann was appointed to be the curator to manage the exhibition and was heavily engaged at the centre of its organisation
My last meeting with V'Ann was at the Masters of Origami Exhibition in July, 2005 at Salzburg in Austria. V'Ann didn't organise the meeting itself, but on the strength of her organisation of the Origami Masterworks Exhibition at the Mingei she had been invited to Salzburg to set up the exhibits. At Salzburg, she was appointed Co-Curator and I found her very busy everywhere organising the displays. But as always she remained in the background and she never sought any of the glory.
V'Ann continued her association with the Mingei. and she was instrumental in arranging a branch facility for the Museum at the city of Escodido CA, some thirty miles to the north of the city of San Diego, where it not only expanded museum space, but also extended the influence of the Museum over a wider area. After this, V'Ann was able to arrange to hold origami workshops to take place at the facility.
Nor were these her only contributions to Origami, for she also wrote Origami books. One of her best known was 'Don't Need Mommy for This Origami' (1996) which explained how to fold in ways which children could understand by themselves. She also wrote books jointly with Florence Temko, Including 'Wedding Origami' and. 'Money Folding'. But her magnum opus was undoubtedly 'Masters of Origami' which was the magnificent record of the Masters of Origami exhibition at the Mingei.
More recently, beginning early in 2007 and still continuing at the present time the Mingei has been holding another exhibition of paperfolding, with the name of "Paper Transformed", This was held at the Escondido facility. V'Ann was again appointed to be the Curator of the exhibition. The exhibition not only included Origami, but also a display of paper hats made by the Hawaiian paper worker known as Moses. Once more, the exhibition has proved to be an exceptionally popular one for the Mingei, which is now established as the leading origami museum in the world, Could this ever have happened if V'Ann had not lived in the area of the Museum?
To our sadness, we now know that much of 2007, unknown to us all, V'Ann was hiding the shadow of the illness which eventually took her away from us.
All this time, V'Ann was also acting as a regional member of the Board of Origami USA and helped to hold that organisation together through periods when the tensions between, on the one hand, the Board, which was based, (like the earlier Origami Center, in Lillian Oppenheimer's home city of metropolitan New York), and on the other, the many members scattered round the regions of the United States. The tension threatened to tear the organization apart. Throughout this time V'Ann stood steadfast and continued, loyally, to work for OUSA as a whole and also to contribute to the success both the New York Conventions and also to the Pacific Coast Conferences. But she was very much a back-room worker and sought no self-credit for her own achievements. Her total contribution will probably never be known, even to those who were closest to her.
Fortunately, just in time, realisation came to a few people and on 28th December, 2007, both the Mingei Museum and Origami USA announced unprecedented awards to V'Ann. Appropriately enough the presentation took place at the Escondito branch of the Museum, into the creation of which she herself had put in so much effort. At this gathering, Origami USA announced the creation of the "V'Ann Cornelius Award for Regional Groups", an award which would so appropriately celebrate and continue V'Ann's devoted work for Origami in the United States as a whole. Counterbalancing this, The Mingei Museum formally renamed the Museum's collection of origami models, many of which had been presented to the Museum following the Origami Masterworks exhibition, the "V'Ann Cornelius Origami Collection", celebrating her work in the San Diego area.. V'Ann was able to attend the event with her husband, John and their family. Now frail, she was confined to a wheelchair, but she was in a spirited mood and clearly enjoyed the occasion. At last V'Ann's vast contributions to Origami were recognized and just in time. She died just twelve days later on 9th January.
From the start of my coming to know her personally in the early 1990s, V'Ann was always "there" and I frequently exchanged e-mails with her on all manner of topics of Origami. I confess that one of the first things I impertinently asked her was about was her unusual name. She happily explained told me that her name had been chosen by her father and it was intended to be pronounced in two parts: the "V" as in the letter "V' followed by the more usual name of 'Ann". It was certainly a distinctive name for a distinctive person! I shall miss her, as will so many of those of us who have had anything to do with international origami during the past twenty years. But we shall always have Origami and as long as we have origami, V'Ann will always be with us
39th January, 2008.
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