For One Man, Origami Unfolds a Better Life

For One Man, Origami Unfolds a Better Life

At the public library in Boulder, Colorado, Ken Fowler is a popular member of “The Boulder Folders,” a club where people gather to practice origami, the Japanese art of folding paper into decorative shapes and figures.

“I think getting together and folding is a lot more fun than doing it by yourself,” says the group’s director, Barbara Gardner.

The Boulder Folders is one of 70 origami clubs in the U.S. There are nearly 50 international origami clubs, all filled with people like Fowler, who love to fold.

“Ken is really motivated,” says Gardner. “He’s a good learner. He’s done a lot of things to figure out how to fold things. He’s learned to read diagrams and he’s become a wonderful teacher.”

Fowler also likes to share his origami with friends who suffer from mental health issues ranging from major depression to schizophrenia.

He says origami helped him find meaning three years ago when he was hospitalized for a depression that was so severe, doctors recommended shock therapy. But then an art teacher at the hospital introduced him to origami.

“My hands were shaking so much that I just couldn’t really get it,” Fowler remembers. “But we just kept persisting and we made these birds.”

He believes origami helped his depression lift.  “You can really relax with it. There’s no hurry. It’s not competitive.”

A documentary about origami by Vanessa Gould called, “Between the Folds,” also inspired him to learn more about the ancient art, and how to teach it to other people.

“If you can’t figure out where you’re at, and you’re wondering where you’re at in your life,” Fowler says, “you just unfold it.”

He views origami as a metaphor for life; you can always roll out the creases, unfold where you’re at, and start folding to make a new pattern.

He’s perfected the art to such an extent that Fowler’s been hired to teach origami classes at community centers. In the process, a new career has unfolded.

— Produced for VOA by Shelley Schlender

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2 Responses to For One Man, Origami Unfolds a Better Life

  1. Ken Fowler says:

    I so appreciate the fun and fascination of folding and unfolding paper or whatever.
    Being able to share and sharing, transformation – Origami for me does this simply with a square, a rectangle, triangles, one fold at a time and just turning the page.
    I have learned how easy it is to get confused, disoriented, and stuck to the point one more fold is not physically or mentally possible. Unfolding is it seems always possible. Each fold or choice creates a memory in the paper that is either a mountain or a valley. We all have our mountains and valleys and with a turn of the page or a little focus and intention they are reversed or made flat again. It’s fun.

    Here’s a poem from Janet Deen who just started an Origami group at the Loveland public library:
    Valleys and mountains
    A fragile form emerges
    It’s simply paper

    Here’s one of my Origami poems – I use this approach with pretty much every fold and in sharing Origami:

    Folding paper or your life

    Let it roll,
    Slowly roll with it, folding together
    Then Let it unfold.

    Shift perspective with a turn and
    Let it roll,
    Slowly roll with it, folding together
    Then Let it unfold.

    Parallel lines meet and part;
    Agree to disagree; Divide and multiply;
    Tell a story; make a book, a map:
    Find the middle way;
    Find the center of a world no longer flat
    Transformed with magic Mountains and Valleys

    Our creases are choices are memories are
    Valleys that are Mountains with a turn of the page;
    Lines in Time;
    Ever shifting perspective

    Let it roll,
    Slowly roll with it, folding together
    Then Let it unfold; or,
    Let it be.

  2. Janet Deen says:

    The story on Ken is wonderful! It shows the need that we all have to be creative and how centering and healing working with your hands can be.
    Thank you,

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