by Baruch Sienna
Edited by Jane Rosemarin
My Year of Origami: Folding 100 Elephant models Baruch Sienna
The six-step elephant by Baruch Sienna is a variation of one by Javier Caboblanco. See PDF diagrams.

Like many people, I was introduced to origami and paper folding sometime in elementary school and learned how to fold the traditional crane, the waterbomb balloon and a few other simple models. I found it mildly interesting and briefly entertaining, but it didn’t particularly resonate at the time.

Fast forward fifty years (or more), and one day, I come across an invitation from Sipho Mabona, who wants to create a large origami elephant for a gallery exhibit and is running a “fund me” campaign to help with the costs of producing a gigantic piece of paper and hiring folding assistants. His goal: a life-size elephant folded out of paper. That certainly catches my attention. And here’s the deal: If you send him a couple of bucks, he will send you a (5-hour-long) carefully produced video tutorial on how to fold his exquisite model. I think that’s pretty cool, so I send away, and sure enough, a few days later, I receive a link to the instructions for his model. I follow along as best I can, but to be honest, my model is a little wonky. This is a very complex model, and I’m a newbie.

The elephant by Sipho Mabona. Folded and Photographed by Baruch Sienna.

In our home we have a den/guest room with travel souvenirs and a few elephant-themed items: a picture from an elephant ride, an elephant carved from wood, one from stone, and even a framed elephant footprint. So Mabona’s paper elephant is a perfect addition. But I’m not happy. The elephant was very hard to fold and didn’t come out as elegantly as I would have liked. So, I try to find an easier one — and there are quite a few: traditional models and elephants by Kawahata, Kasahara, Kirschenbaum and Kober (and that’s just the letter K). I’m searching for the perfect model: one that’s not too stylized and abstract (Beth Johnson and Rui Roda have some great examples of this) but not too complicated to fold or so realistic that it looks more like paper sculpture than traditional origami (Miyamoto and Kato, for example). I want a model that is cute, but not so hard that I can’t fold it from memory. Before I know it, I’ve folded dozens of models. But I haven’t found the perfect one.

One of Edwin Corrie’s elephant designs. Folded and photographed by Baruch Sienna.

And then, I come across an adorable model by Edwin Corrie. It looks fairly simple (turns out to have only 18 steps). The diagrams are out-of-print, but I’m desperate to add it to my now-growing collection. I manage to contact Edwin, and he graciously sends me the hand-drawn two-page diagram. Only two pages! I think: I’m a beginner, but how hard could it be? At one point it says, “this step is quite difficult.” Sure enough, I’m stuck. Turns out, I happen to be traveling in Tel Aviv, and I think: Origami is popular around the world; maybe there is someone in Israel who can help. So, I look up “Origami + Israel” and sure enough, I find the Israel Origami Center and a phone number. I call them and explain that I’m trying to fold this origami elephant model, and they say, “Call Paul Jackson.” I’m new to the world of Origami, so I don’t know that Paul is a well-respected author and British origami enthusiast who is teaching design and writing origami books from his home in Herzliyah (not far from Tel Aviv). He is as charming as can be and invites me to meet him, and we have a little folding session. He shows me how to execute a few difficult folds, and I successfully add the Corrie model to my herd. Thanks to our conversation, I also gain a deeper appreciation of origami and why it has kept him engaged all these years. I learn of his elephantine challenge: Can you fold an elephant in fewer than seven folds? Three? I fold simple flat abstractions and more-complex 3D lifelike models. Even after folding dozens of models, Corrie’s design remains one of my favorites. But I’m still not satisfied.

A bookshelf with all the elephants Baruch folded during his project.

I go down the rabbit hole of origami (or should I say the elephant hole). Who knew that there seems to be more origami models of elephants than any other animal? In order to keep track, I start making a list and checking them off. Thanks to websites (Gilad’s origami database, Flickr’s Origami Elephant group, YouTube videos and other resources), I slowly track down models — finding the books at the library or digital copies on Scribd. OrigamiUSA’s excerpt service is helpful in getting some models. I visit our local Japanese Cultural Centre that has a small library with an impressive origami section. Sometimes, I have to track down the designer, scour the internet for an email address and then ask them if they’d kindly share their diagram (which they kindly do). I have personally reached out to designers from Japan, Spain, Italy, South Korea, England and the USA.

Needless to say, not every folding attempt is successful at first (or ever). Many times, the result has been a crumpled ball of paper and frustrated tears. I have a list of a few models that I still hope to fold. Some designs have no published diagrams. Eventually I fold over 80 models. I have folded every simple elephant I can find, and to get to 100, I must stretch my folding skills. I have to attempt some more-challenging models. I seek out our local origami club. I meet a young boy and introduce myself: “I’m a beginner folder,” I say, “but I like to fold elephants.”

The elephant designed by D. Rotenberg, age 13.

“OK,” he says and walks away. A few moments later he returns with an elephant model I’ve never seen. “Here,” he says, “I made this for you.” I am stunned, as I realize that this original, cute elephant being offered to me is by a 13-year-old who made it up on the spot. At this gathering, I also meet a fellow origami enthusiast. He has folded for many years and is quite skilled. Working together, we’re able to fold some models I can’t quite do on my own.

Along the way, I’ve folded quite a few other models that have caught my eye and that I’ve found attractive and elegant: a dozen different butterflies, a variety of birds (from cardinals to penguins). Mice, rabbits, koi fish, snails. A cute sheep. Some boxes, a terrific but surprisingly easy 3D two-colored strawberry. Even a very creative tube of paint.

My diagram-reading and folding skills are definitely improving. I can now complete some models that I couldn’t before. I find some amazingly creative elephants: one perched on a ball, sitting elephants, acrobatic elephants. I tick off models 96, 97, 98: Xiao, Yamada, Zsebe. Before I know it, I’ve hit number 99. It’s a little over a year since my encounter with Paul. It’s been an interesting journey: I’ve learned about origami, developed new skills, made new friends. I haven’t yet been to an origami convention. I don’t know what I will fold next. I don’t know how the future will unfold.

I find a very simple model graciously shared by the designer Javier Caboblanco. I like it a lot, but I feel like I can improve its shape. I don’t know how many changes to a model makes it your own design, but I’ve started with his base and modified it slightly. I try my hand at diagramming it. It is a simple, attractive model I can fold from memory.

My 100th elephant.


April 6, 2024 - 10:29pm Jaycer17

This was a wonderful story to read. Elephants are by themselves wonderful creatures, and every origami model I find is a wonder to behold. I, too, set out to fold 100 elephants as a personal project two years ago, to go with a story about an elephant I wrote. But unlike you, I fumbled on my 100th, since I still don't have the skills (it was Kato's). But I got further than I thought, and I discovered some beautiful models along the way. Congratulations on your journey and on your model, and if you want, you can see the elephants I folded looking up #my100elephants on Instagram.

April 7, 2024 - 3:38am Paola Poli

Davvero una bellissima storia, racconta perfettamente il percorso dei piegatori di origami, per ogni modello piegato si fa un passo avanti e la strada che hai davanti è infinita, ma sei sempre circondato dalla gentilezza.
Complimenti per i tuoi cento elefanti e grazie per aver condiviso il tuo progetto.
Un saluto dall'Italia

April 7, 2024 - 2:08pm jkieran

I also love folding elephants! Thank you!

April 10, 2024 - 5:20am Claire Faulkes

What a fantastic journey, thank you so much for sharing. You have inspired me to actually get on with my goal of folding all the crane variations I can find instead of just thinking about it.I must ask you, when you met Paul did he show you his own elephant design with the absolutely evil closed sink? I was so proud of myself when I managed to fold that one.

April 11, 2024 - 10:32pm baruchsienna

I’ve done an elephant by Paul, and many with sinks!