To have and to fold

eremy Shafer is keenly aware of the possibilities offered by manipulating the two-dimensional stuff into all manner of shapes, on all kinds of scales.

Origami folding  (photo credit: PAUL JACOBSON)
Origami folding
(photo credit: PAUL JACOBSON)
These days we are – quite rightly – encouraged to cut down on paper use and to recycle as much as can. But there are other things that can be done with sheets of tree-based material – many more. Jeremy Shafer is keenly aware of the possibilities offered by manipulating the two-dimensional stuff into all manner of shapes, on all kinds of scales.
Shafer is a professional entertainer and origamist, which makes him an excellent choice as one of the principal guests at the forthcoming annual International Origami Convention, which will take place at the Yearim Hotel in Ma’aleh Hahamisha, February 8 to 10.
Shafer is, by all accounts, something of a superstar of the global origami community. To date he has published three origami books of his original designs, attended conventions all over the world, and has made hundreds of video tutorials on his origami You- Tube channel, which currently has more than 300,000 subscribers and over 100 million views.
It all started for the 45-year-old Californian around three and a half decades ago.
“I began with playground folds when I was in third grade, when I was nine years old,” he explains. “It was typical stuff – paper airplanes, water bombs.” It was clearly enduring infant love at first fold. “Like most kids, I enjoyed it and it stuck to this day,” he laughs.
Shafer’s origami aspirations were soon given a helping hand.
“When I was in fourth grade I got a book for Christmas.
It was John Montroll’s Origami for the Enthusiast,” Shafer recalls. The tome in question was Montroll’s debut release, published in 1980, and was the first origami book in which every model illustrated is folded from a single square sheet with no cuts. It certainly fired young Shafer’s imagination, and moved him right along the origami learning curve.
He was keen to explore new ways of manipulating paper and testing the limits of his developing imagination.
“It introduced me to the more advanced techniques of origami,” he notes. The youngster was up and running.
“I started making my own models really quickly. I think I tried to fold the most advanced model in the book, as most kids tend to do.” That seems like a moot point. While most children may be naturally curious, not that many youngsters go quite as far as Shafer, or have the degree of resourcefulness he displayed in the face of seeming failure. “It was a grasshopper,” he continues. “Naturally I wasn’t able to complete it, but I was able to turn it into a five-headed bird. That was my first original design,” he adds with a chuckle. That sounds a bit jazzy, I suggest, like improvising on a theme. “I also play piano,” he says. Fair enough.
While Shafer has gained a reputation over the past couple of decades or so for coming up with some pretty wild and wacky creations, the base line of origami is tantalizingly simple and accessible to almost everyone on the planet. All you need is a piece of paper. “And your fingers,” he notes. “The possibilities are limitless.”
They may be infinite, but you have to have the urge to seek them out and go where no paper folder has gone before. “I have been following my own path, in terms of what to fold,” he says. “I have learned along the way, and I am always trying to put my own flair, and creativity, on it.”
It appears that Shafer has numerous strings to his artistic bow. In addition to being one of the world’s leading origami experts, he is a pretty nimble keyboardist, is fluent in Spanish, and more than gets by in French, Italian and Japanese. Add to that high-level juggling and you have yourself one well-rounded performer. He even works some of his paper creations into his juggling act.
Shafer is not only looking to conceive new shapes and designs, he also invests much effort in spreading the word of origami as far and wide as he possibly can, and right across the social board. That often dictates the works he produces.
“I tend to stick to the simpler models. I have a lot of kids that follow my work, and I try to make it accessible to the lowest common denominator, which are nine- to 10-year-olds. I don’t want to show them things they can’t fold. They would get frustrated.” Then again, his failure to replicate Montroll’s insect only served to spur him on to greater and more complex things.
Having traveled to the four corners of the world in his professional capacity, Shafer has had the chance to get a glimpse of what his fellow creators from different cultures are up to.
“Origami is definitely international. Each country has its own tradition and national group. They incorporate their national theme into their origami designs. In Ecuador, for example, they tend to form models from the Galapagos,” Shafer notes, referencing the archipelago of volcanic islands which are home to numerous species of animals. “Then, in Spain, they will have designs inspired by the bullfighting.”
He says he is looking forward to discovering if we have some special Israeli themes that come through in locally made origami models.
“Maybe there are some things based on Hanukka or Passover or one of the other Jewish holidays. I don’t know.”
Shafer has some hands-on experience of his own in that department.
“I have done quite a few Jewish-themed models. I do a lot of work with the local Chabad school.” In fact, he got some grounding in Judaism at an early age.
“My dad is Jewish and my mom isn’t, but she sent me to Saturday school for about a year when I was a kid,” he explains. “My non-Jewish mother wanted to instill some [ Jewish] culture in me,” he laughs, “so I learned about Jewish traditions.” That basic knowhow comes in handy for some of Shafer’s educational and entertainment work.
“I use that knowledge at some of my gigs in the Jewish community.”
Besides imparting the wonder of turning flat pieces of paper into wondrous creatures and other shapes, Shafer says he wants to get kids away from virtual domains and into the concrete non-virtual world.
“For me it’s kind of a mission to get kids off computer games a little bit, and get them folding paper, and doing something physical,” he declares. “I think it is a lot healthier.”
There are more benefits to be had for budding junior origamists.
“It also develops spatial awareness and helps them to learn geometry.” The latter is not conveyed by drawing something two-dimensional on a page or by looking at a computer screen. “It’s experiential,” he observes, adding that helps him get his message across, regardless of the verbal communication skills on offer. “Origami is universal. You can teach origami without relying on language.”
Other than Shafer’s slots over the three-day program, the convention lineup includes leading local origami experts Paul Jackson and Miri Golan, with events for people of all ages and levels of proficiency.
There will be workshops for designers and advanced origamists, as well as playful folding activities for children and beginners. There will also be a large exhibition of origami designs, more elementary workshops and an abundance of impromptu teaching and sharing.
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