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Convention: Origami on the Other Side of the Atlantic Ocean

I was very honored to be invited as a special guest at the 2018 OUSA convention. This was my first opportunity to attend an origami convention outside Europe and also my first visit to New York City. Happily, my husband Robert Loubet and our dear friend Inès Héricourt wanted to come with me. We were an enthusiastic traveling team. We had heard about the American convention, and in our imagination, it was something big and serious that set a standard for all-around quality. We discovered that the convention was fun and open to everybody who wants to fold paper, whether they be skilled artists or beginners.

Before Leaving

We prepared for the convention on the OrigamiUSA website. We worried a little because the website is labyrinthian, and we felt lost both because English is not our native language and due to the new algorithm for class registration. How is it possible to satisfy 400 people’s choices among 20 simultaneous classes, each limited to 25 attendees (74 classes on Saturday, 77 on Sunday, and 22 on Monday)? A long questionnaire with abundant explanations allows everyone to submit a list of class requests, and the "top choices" are promised to be granted. Happily, behind the algorithm, there are human beings! The OrigamiUSA volunteers are all well coordinated, competent, available, and kind. Indeed any worries we had about the convention vanished when we met the really nice people at the convention.

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean: Wednesday and Thursday

We departed from Toulouse at 11 a.m. and arrived in New York at 4p.m. by the magic of time zones. Wendy Zeichner, whom we met before in Metz during the MFPP convention, came to pick us up at the airport. Her presence made us feel at home. At Saint John's University, Jean Baden-Gillette, former President of OrigamiUSA, is waiting for us, thanks to an effective exchange of texts. Helpful Michael Montebello is with her. He takes our luggage while we go to the front desk to register and get our badges, the open sesame for accessing the rooms and the cafeteria.


Left: Arrival at St. John's University. Right: Badge

On Thursday morning, we are meeting with Akiko and Susan to partake in our first sightseeing trip. To start, we eat breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts. Now our team is ready to visit New York!

Susan devotes the whole day to being our guide, and to tell the truth, she is like a mother duck, counting her little ducklings to check that nobody is lost at the corners of the streets or on the subway stairs. She wears a lovely pikachu hat and easily finds opportunities to talk with strangers about origami and the OrigamiUSA convention. She introduces the Japanese and French special guests with guaranteed success! We are folding paper in the metro and at the restaurant, where we make little gifts and spread the joy of origami. It was a nice day to better know Akiko, Susan, and American culture. Below are some pictures to share with you from these charming hours.


Really a nice day, thank you Susan!

In the evening, we are invited to a welcome supper at an Italian restaurant near the University—a nice dinner with delicious food and friendly conversation. I am sitting between Patty Grodner and Jean Baden-Gillette, and I am trying to translate a little for Inès, and checking with Robert to see if we understand the same things. After supper, we began to fold! First, my kitten and then a nice box designed by Ann de Vries and taught by Helma Van Der Linden. Helma came with Martin Quinn, from —two well-known faces we are happy to meet again after the European conventions.

Setting up the Exhibition and Welcome Day: Friday

We meet Ruthanne Bessman, exhibit director, at 10 a.m. After two hours of hard work, thanks to help from Robert, Inès, and Ruthanne, I finally finish placing my models on three tables:

I am very happy to have brought an origami garden display created by friends from the Toulouse origami group. It was a well received project.

At the same time, Akiko installs about three times as many models on her tables because she has been creating models for 25 years! By herself, quietly, she makes a perfect presentation in a superb classic Japanese style. She even folded some of the models the day before in her dorm room—a very good strategy to manage her luggage!

Akiko's exhibit includes known models and new ones, with animals and wonderful elephants that I would love to learn to fold.

On this very morning, I am also lucky to meet John Blackman, whose exhibit is amazing. A kind man passing by shows us his last year’s exposition on the theme of Jack and the Magic Bean. Absolutely splendid.

I also discover Janet Yelle’s models. I will meet her many times, and Inès will be lucky to attend her classes.


Philip Chapman-Bell’s table is appealing me. I only know his models from pictures on Flickr. I will be lucky to take back home his gift of a special« tomato » just ripened!

There is a table for the children’s contest (Origami by Children): some are original designs. High-quality works indeed—very challenging and stimulating. It's so important to prepare for origami's future!

In the afternoon, we visit the hospitality area where the OUSA volunteers are working like ants and bees to prepare everything.

We receive our survival kit with lots of useful and pleasant things, including a nice convention bag with many pockets.


Every new attendee receives the label "First Timer" so that everyone will pay attention and help. Indeed, everybody was super kind with the first timers. As for me, I had the double benefit of being both a special guest and a first timer. Sometimes I found that experience to be funny. Photos of Akiko and me could be seen in the hospitality area on two screens, like giant Wanted posters. No $ reward was mentioned!

Nearly every attendee I met welcomed me and thanked me for coming from so far away. The same kind welcome was extended to Robert and Inès. I had met before Robert Lang previously in Lyon and in Italy, and he kindly welcomed me. But when John Montroll himself (You know, this man who publishes so many good origami books!!) welcomed me as the special guest, I thought it was a hallucination!

Convention, 1st day: Saturday

In the cafeteria, I meet new origami friends, including Laura Kruskal, a charming 95-year old lady who speaks perfect French. She folds a different origami crown every year, and she is a true queen of the convention.

Time to go to the opening of the convention. Jan Polish is making announcements with the microphone. It's a serious job, but she keeps her sense of humor. She introduces the special guests and encourages everyone to ask them questions.

I am shown a table on which sit an assortment of models, papers, and books. This is the 'giveaways' table. I hear that the idea originated with Mark Kennedy, which is not surprising. I look carefully, and I am surprised by the numerous and generous gifts:


It is time to go to Sy Chen’s Pinwheel Masu class. This model is a variation of the traditional masu box: a great idea to lock the unlocked flaps into the box. Later he gives me a wonderful model, an arrow that turns into a heart.

At 2 p.m., I am going to teach one of my models on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time! It is L’Arbre du Canal du Midi, and the class will be broadcast on the internet. Yesterday evening, I practiced with Kathy Riley, our roommate in suite 508. She checked my English and my folding sequences: lovely guinea pig number one! I am ready. Kathleen Sheridan will be my guide for the document camera, which is really simple; it is like a desk lamp. The class is beginning and everything is going fine!

The attendees are very attentive and everybody succeeds. All the tree stand very well—I am so glad! We take a picture. Luckily, busy Wendy and Jean could attend my class, and also Martin with his Scottish kilt!

After a free hour, I will give my second class: the bug, with my special wax paper.

Everybody folds the model easily. The best moment is when the paper folders choose their piece of special paper: African fabric backcoated with paper. The patterns of the fabric are so beautiful! I explain how to make this special paper, and I see many smiles.

Tomorrow is my two-hour Archer class. I need a new guinea pig, and I am lucky to find a fantastic one: Anne LaVin. Her class (the superb Unicorn by Daniela Carboni) is at the same time as mine, but she wants to fold the Archer. So we meet in Suite 508 and test the folding sequence and vocabulary. Anne succeeds very well. She helps me with English and its subtle nuances. If I say "opened part," it is a specific place in the middle of the model, but if I say "opened side," it is the whole side of the mode. Anne's cleverness and deep knowledge are striking from our very first conversation.

Time for bed, but at 2:30 a.m., the fire alarm rings (as seen on Facebook!). Everybody goes out with different pajama styles, taking only their most important belongings. Luckily, it was a false alarm!

Convention, 2nd day: Sunday

This morning, I will attend Akiko Yamanashi’s Mount Fuji box class. Anne LaVin and Nobuko Okabe are here to help with the translation, but Akiko manages very well. She introduces the traditional image of Mount Fuji in the Ukiyo-e paintings: red for rising sun, blue and white for winter, brown at other times. The snowy cap on the top of the mountain is considered like a women’s makeup. A beautiful classical style model. The snow is the lid of the box, with a simple and elegant lock like the Yamanashi box style. The lid reminds me my tulip. I will discuss this with Akiko afterwards.

The temperature is warmer today, and the weather gets stormy. My Archer class is held in a super-hot room (interesting for wet folding technique!). I suggest that the spray bottles serve double duty to refresh our faces, but manage to hold out until the end. First we practice the Archer with standard paper, and then we wet fold it using special Arches paper. I brought a piece of this paper for everyone, but since it is not easy to use for the first time, I also brought some Canson mi-teinte and Italian Efalin. Below are some of the high-quality results.


A very festive occasion at the American convention is the « Oversized Folding » competition. The time given to fold giant models is rather short (45 minutes), and it lends the event a dynamic rhythm and joyful excitement. The master of ceremonies is Marc Kirschenbaum himself (His funny comments were my greatest regret about my English misunderstanding.) Akiko and I were among the members of the kind Jury. To tell the truth, all the models were so much fun, ranging from simple to complex, that it was impossible to declare which one was best!

Convention, 3rd day: Monday
The last morning of the convention was filled with departures and farewells. Good bye to the kind girls who welcomed me as a « first timer » and told me about their journey in India. How kind have been my new American origami friends!

The last day of the convention is not for origami classes; it is for lectures, ideas exchange, and topics relating to origami (how to exhibit, how to photograph, etc.). Today I attend a Japanese class by Nobuko Okabe, a designer of modular origami. She created a very special and simple unit that forms the basis of so many shapes that Tomoko Fuse called it the «Super Nobu unit». Robert and I enjoyed this simple lesson a lot.

This afternoon, I will try an experiment: «Designing a minimalist origami model». Somewhat ambitious: a presentation (15 minutes) on the mental process of creation (the conscious choices, not the profound mystery of creation!) and then 30 minutes left to the attendees to create one or more models. I already had tried this experiment in Lyon with Quyet Hoang in 2015, and I improved the idea. See the results: 30 models in 30 minutes, what more could we expect? Models appeared so quickly that I hardly had time to take pictures!


Conclusion!

I have to say THANK YOU:

To Wendy Zeichner and OrigamiUSA, who invited me on this journey I would never have imagined. And special thanks for having taken care of me and my traveling team of Robert and Inès.

To the OrigamiUSA volunteers who made the convention safe, effective and friendly.

To my American origami friends. So welcoming, they make the convention interesting, joyful, and warm.

My message to people who have never gone to the American convention: It is big, for sure, but you can find there everything that an origami enthusiast needs. It is worth going!