The Art of Folding Paper

Alligator by Michael LaFosseAmerican Alligator, designed by Michael LaFosse; folded by LaFosse and Richard Alexander (50 hours total) from one, uncut, 6′ square of handmade paper by Alexander

It’s the time of year when we start thinking about selecting a theme for the folk craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival. The idea of paper traditions seems full of potential; possibilities include origami, Polish wyncinanki, Chinese paper cutting, kite making, Italian marbled paper, decorative paste papers, wallpaper, piñatas, Turkish Ebru, and a variety of children’s folklore (cootie catchers, fortune tellers, gum wrapper chains, spitballs, and paper airplanes. . . )

I decided to start my search with origami — the art of folding paper from a single, uncut sheet — and soon discovered there are a world of paper folders out there, doing everything from paper cranes to extreme origami. How thrilled I was to learn about Origamido, a commercial design studio, hand papermaking facility, and fine art gallery founded by Michael LaFosse and Richard Alexander in 1996, and located in Haverhill, Massachusetts, just a twenty mintue  drive away.

Michael LaFosse

Above: Michael LaFosse at Origamido

Below: Richard Alexander holding origami Afican Pangolin, designed and fronded by Eric Joisel from a single, uncut 2 m square of wrapping paper

Richard Alexander

Michael designs, diagrams, and folds. Richard Alexander designs,  specializes in making handmade paper, and shoots photography and video. They are probably the only origami artists in the world today who routinely make custom paper. In fact, other master origami artists prize their papers, which are made with permanent, finely ground pigments so pieces will last hundreds of years. They make a living by publishing books of their work and by teaching in-school residencies.

  Cormorant by Michael LaFosse Origami Cormorant Drying it’s Wings, designed and folded by LaFossse in handmade paper by Alexander

Both Michael and Richard have backgrounds in science, which explains the strong natural history focus to their work. Whereas a majority of origami is geometric, Michael is drawn to living subjects, rather than the intricate geometric forms. He was inspired by the work of  Master Akira Yoshizawa, a key figure in modern Japanese origami, who originated the wet folding technique. Wet folding allows shaping that will stay in place when the paper dries.

Origamido horse headAlexander holding Zodiac Horse designed and executed in “roundfolding” technique by Roy Iwiki, from distorting scored curves in card stock

Orchid by Michael LaFosse

Cattlyea Orchid designed and folded of crepe paper by LaFosse

Today, mathematicians and computer programmers have created a system that largely prescribes crease patterns. “You get greater complexity,” Michael concedes, “but you also get a lot of things that can look like they evolved from the same technology.”

One is said to “perform” a piece of origami. Michael elaborates, “The very best origami begins in the design stage, where the folding, from start to finish, is elegant.  Because it’s often the little touches – the paper you choose, how you place the folds, and the little details. It’s amazing how a millimeter off at one end magnifies out at the other end, and it will change the look. Even people who do not know anything about origami can tell if something is off.People even who do not know much about origami will look at something like that and they will know something is off. And that’s like singing out of tune or not having the right color in your voice. The subtleties that shade performance are also there in the folds.”

Wilbur by Michael LaFosse, 1991

Wilbur the Piglet, origami designed and folded by LaFosse from his own handmade paper

An elegant fold is one in which the geometry works naturally. The finished piece has to look alive. In preparation for making Wilbur the pig (1991), Michael spent many hours at the Topsfield Fair, observing piglets. Having the right paper was critical. Experimenting, he came up with the perfect handmade paper —  pale pink in color, fairly stiff, with a fuzziness to its finish.  The actual folding of the piece took approximately six  hours.

When I ask if he would ever make another Wilbur the pig, he responds, “If I did, I would be trying to copy the magic in the bottle that I captured when I made Wilbur. Or I would become a student, in a torturing sort of way. Sort of, like, how did I get that just right? And then, you know, it’s just brittle. It doesn’t work.”

 

MCC announces Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts

MCC is delighted to announce the 2014 Artist Fellowships in the Traditional Arts. Two artists will receive  fellowships in the amount of $10,000 and four artists will receive $500 finalist awards. For more information on MCC Artist Fellowships, look here.

ARTIST FELLOWS:

Elizabeth James Perry, Wampanoag weaving and wampum

Hand woven sash by Elizabeth James Perry

Elizabeth James Perry, (Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head) is a fiber artist whose work reflects time-honored Wampanoag materials, techniques, and aesthetics. A scholar of Northeastern wampum and indigenous fiber arts, her work focuses on early contact-period Northeastern Woodlands Algonquian material culture, which features woven regalia (twining, weft weaving), natural dyes, and wampum adornment. She has been the recipient of a New England for the Arts grant (NEFA) and served as a master artist in the Southern New England Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.

Selected exhibitions include the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, Mashantucket, CT; National Seashores Salt Pond Visitor Center, Eastham, MA; The Boston Children’s Museum, Boston, MA; Aquinnah Cultural Center, Martha’s Vineyard, MA; and Roger Williams University, Bristol RI.

Jimmy Noonan, Irish flute and tin whistle playing

Jimmy Noonan at Boston College Jan 23 2014. Photo: Paul Wells

Jimmy Noonan is an Irish flute and tin whistle player who grew up steeped in the traditional music of County Clare, Ireland. He learned from traditional musicians who, as he says, were “the pillars of their society, playing for weddings, funerals and political events; their importance was immense.” Dedicated to passing on the tradition, Noonan has run his own music schools in Cleveland and Boston. National Heritage Fellow Seamus Connolly invited Noonan to teach at Boston College, where he has been an adjunct professor in the music department since 1996. In addition, he has taught at many of the premier Irish Music Summer Schools in the country including Gaelic Roots, Catskills Irish Arts Week, and Milwaukee Irish Fest.  Selected recordings include The Maple Leaf: Irish Traditional Music from Boston and The Clare Connection.

FINALISTS:

Thomas Matsuda, Japanese Buddhist woodcarving

Thomas Matsuda at Lowell Folk Festival 2014. Photo: Greg Cook

Japanese monks inspired Thomas Matsuda to study his art in Japan. He apprenticed under one of the leading classical Buddhist sculptors in Japan, Koukei Eri. Masuda went on to develop his own distinct style, while living in a remote Japanese mountain village, where he carved more than two hundred sculptures for temples, shrines, and patrons. A decade later, Matsuda returned to the Massachusetts, where he continues to carve Buddhist sculpture and to teach. Influenced by the rough-hewn rustic style of Enku, Matsuda’s works, rendered in stone and wood, can be found displayed among leading Buddhist centers and temples.  Selected commissions include a 7-ton marble Buddha for the Grafton Peace Pagoda in Grafton, NY and Budda’s Feet for the Leverett Peace Pagoda in Leverett, MA.  He has demonstrated woodcarving at several Lowell Folk Festivals.

Daphne Board, Custom shoemaking

Hand made shoes by Daphne Board

Cordwainer Daphne Board makes made-to-measure, custom built shoes and boots using wooden or plastic lasts.  She learned her cordwaining skills through an apprenticeship with a shoemaker in Nova Scotia, who himself had learned from an Italian shoemaker. Since then, she has set up own shop in Holyoke. Board is a member of the Honorable Cordwainers Company. She relies on a small community of shoe and bootmakers for advice, locating leather suppliers, and continuing to learn traditional techniques.  In addition to her stunning leather work and keen eye for color, Daphne Board is on her way to becoming a certified pedorthist, someone skilled in making orthotics and treating foot problems. “I’m interested in not only making beautiful shoes, but shoes for people who cannot wear factory made, stand-sized shoes.” Board served as a master artist in 2013 Southern New England Traditional Arts Program and was a craft artist at 2012 Lowell Folk Festival, Lowell, MA.

Vincent Crotty, European sign craft

Cumann na nGaeilge sign by Vincent Crotty

For the past 23 years, Vincent Crotty has been making hand-painted signs created using old-world techniques like wood-graining, marbleizing, freehand lettering, and pictorial designs. Traditional sign craft, a skill that has almost been obliterated by computer graphics, is an art form that has been handed down from father to son, master to apprentice, for centuries. Born in Ireland, Crotty learned his craft in his 20s, at a trade school called Fas, where his teachers had learned through the old-world guild system. Tools of the trade include sign quills and special sable hair brushes; materials include sign enamels, gold leaf, varnish, and shellac.

Crotty’s work can be found on neighborhood storefront signage throughout Boston, local churches, pubs, and on signage for Irish music festivals around the country. Selected commissions include The Irish Cultural Centre, Canton, MA; Irish Arts Week, East Durham, NY; Codman Academy, Dorchester, MA; St. Mark’s, St. Ambrose, St. Margaret’s, St. Peter’s, and St. Ann’s, Dorchester, MA; St. Ann’s, Quincy, MA.

Mal Barsamian, Armenian and Middle Eastern music

Malcolm Barsamian on saxophone

Multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Barsamian grew up in a household rich in Middle Eastern music. He comes from a family of oud players starting from his grandfather, his father, his great-uncle, and uncle. His father, Leo, had four-year-old Malcolm sitting in on dumbeg at Armenian picnics. As a youngster, Barsamian listened to old recordings of Armenian and Middle Eastern Masters, picking up the ability to improvise. Classical training enhanced his musical skills and his ability to perform Armenian and Middle Eastern music.

He has gone on to become a sought-after player of the oud and dumbeg, as well as instruments such as clarinet, guitar, and saxophone, performing in the Armenian and Greek communities for over thirty years. Barsamian is well schooled in the underlying theory of Turkish classical music, and related music of the Middle East, Armenia, and the Balkan countries. In addition to teaching, Barsamian plays regular for concerts, community events, weddings, and festivals concerts, reinvigorating and preserving the music of his Armenian heritage. Selected performances include the Armenian Festival, Watertown, MA; Armenian Festival, 2008; Birmingham, MI; Lowell Folk Festival, 2012, Lowell, MA; The St. Athanasius Greek Orthodox Church, Arlington, MA;Tufts University, 2010, Medford, MA; and The African Museum,2013, Detroit, MI. Barsamian recorded One Take: Armenian Dance Songs in 2005.