This summer I was delighted to attend an Origami USA (OUSA) convention for the first time. I’d first been invited several years ago, but ill-health prevented it and I was beginning to fear it would never happen. Thankfully, this year I felt able to accept the gracious invitation. Thanks to a huge act of generosity by a modest person, Ali was able to come with me, so a real double bonus for us!
We left the UK on Tuesday morning, having spent the night at Brilly’s B&B (highly recommended). The flight left at 11am and after a 7 hour flight arrived in Philadelphia 1pm local time, 5 hours behind us. We decided to just pretend it was “really” 1pm and act accordingly. Our gracious hosts Mark and Arlene gave us a tour of their ‘hood’ and we ended up eating a curry at 3.30am our time! We woke reasonably fresh and after a casual breakfast, helped Mark to prepare for the drive to NYC. This was around 1.5 hours of motorway and we stopped on the other side of the Hudson for a classic “tourist” shot, our first ever view of New York City. Words failed me at the sight – posters are all well and good, but to see it for real was amazing.
We checked in at the accommodation, part of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) that OUSA use every year as their venue. Not high-spec, but clean and comfortable, and thankfully with air-conditioning. Several early birds from the OUSA board were already settled in, including Susan Dugan (the official photographer) and Michael Montibello (the official roadie), who were in the other bedroom within the shared rooms. We quickly found them to be excellent room-mates! Memory is already fading, but I’m fairly certain we went for a meal in a Persian restaurant. The 92 degree heat and 85% humidity level (which seemed the same at night) wreaked havoc on our energy levels, but we managed to reach midnight, chatting to our friends.
Thursday we went sight seeing with tour-guide Susan and checked out Maceys (the store, not the photographer), as well as several book shops and innumerable impressive high-rise buildings. It was interesting to see that buildings from the turn of the last century seemed all to be 6 stories high, with the age of other buildings generally denoted by their increased height. The heat was torrid, so frequent trips into air-conditioned shops was called for. We were also increasingly troubled by swollen feet, a syndrome known as “New York Foot”, brought on by too much walking and looking upwards. The cure was clearly another night out in a restaurant followed by chatting in the dorms until “lights out”.
Friday saw more sight-seeing, the Statue of Liberty, Staaten Island and much more, before we went across the street into FIT to register for the weekend. Having read extensively about the scale of OUSA conventions, I was still slightly shocked by the scale of the event, with over 600 people expected and a good number of them already sat at tables, folding. The lectern for announcements was overset with the society name, spelled out in large letters featuring some of my paper airplane designs, a nice touch. I briefly met my fellow guest, Isa Klein from Brazil, although we had virtually no time to talk throughout the whole weekend. I then went to the exhibition room, where Ruthanne Bessman and her team of volunteers made everything look wonderful.
I met several of the organisers, including Jean-Baden Gillette, Jan Polish, Wendy Zeichner. There were many other volunteers in evidence, including an amiable cove called Norm and many others whose names I sadly cannot recall, thanks to you all! The conference provides rooms and accommodation, but eating is a DIY affair, due to the massive numbers. We found a lovely Indian restaurant right outside the FIT building and relaxed, talking with Robert Lang, Anne Lavin and Marc Kirschenbaum. Back in the main auditorium, folding continued apace, but we made the sensible decision to have a relatively early night.
Saturday began with a bagelicious breakfast in the next door room, occupied by Mark Kennedy and Arlene Gorchev. They opened their doors to everyone on the floor (it seemed) and a fascinating variety of foodstuffs were consumed. As we entered the main building, we walked alongside a long queue of excited folders, who were waiting to select their classes. With 600 plus people, demand for some classes was high, so to be fair, OUSA run a moderately complicated system of ticket allocation, where you are given a number depending on your date of booking combined with your volunteer or teacher status. I neatly (and mercifully) avoided the whole queuing system by virtue of special guests being able to walk into any class without question.
Entering the auditorium, it was awash with people – none of the many overseas conventions I’d been to could compare. However, most attendees were familiar with the systems that OUSA had developed over the years and seemed to know (more or less) what they were doing. The rooms were scattered among the different floors and each session had, in theory, 15 minutes travel time allowed to reach your next class. Given that there were problems with the elevators, this was a good thing!
The first class I took was at 10am, was “Story-gami” with my old friend Michael LaFosse. Tied in with a recent publication of his, this was a way to teach a model by using a story, without using origami terminology. We learned a wonderful Owl by following the tale of a pirate captain and his treasure. Excellently delivered and a brilliant concept, I came away making a note to investigate this.
I had to dash away promptly to deliver the first of my own classes, some simple animal designs. This was broadcast live on the interweb and was slightly restrictive in that I had to fold for a laptop rather than the audience and it took a while to learn to do this properly. One interesting aspect was the live feedback from my remote students, fed back to me by technical wizard Marcio Noguchi – I had a request to “run the folds on the butt by once again?” Lunch came shortly after, so Ali and I once more sampled some of the wide variety of local food on offer nearby.
I took a break from classes after lunch and hiked for what seemed like miles to the exhibition room and further miles to a vast gymnasium, where various stalls had been set up, alongside a silent auction, offering a huge number of biddable items (although in the end, I only won a single book). The well-stocked supplies rooms (The Source, run by Mike and Janet Hamilton) were on yet another floor, I was confused for some time – don’t underestimate the amount of walking you need to do, both around New York and within the convention!
3pm saw my second class, teaching leaves, snails and a caterpillar. As with all my classes, I tried to keep it light-hearted but my finely-honed humour was to some extent wasted. The language barriers were fascinating, some of what I said was spontaneously translated into American and a request in a restaurant “Could you pass me a fork please” elicited a “Huh?” reaction (apparently it’s pronounced “foruk”). I have to say, throughout our time in NY, Ali and I were treated with the utmost courtesy and people were invariably friendly and welcoming. I had to sign vast quantities of books during the weekend and was delighted to do so.
4pm saw me sat in the gymnasium chatting when someone hollered “Nick, you’ve missed your class!” Hells Bells, it was true. When I’d found a programme sheet of 18 classes, I carefully circled mine and could see nothing on the 4pm timeline. Then someone showed me the second sheet with classes 19-35, including one of mine! So, I can only apologise to those who waited patiently for me – in England, we usually have 3 classes, so I thought 18 was impressive, not realising you run 35 simultaneous classes – quite extraordinary. The evening was a blur of (yet another) restaurant, impromptu folding and lots of fun. Somehow or other, I was lured into an Irish bar to end the evening, or was it morning?
Sunday, bleary-eyed, I had to remind myself that (unlike in England) this was NOT the last day and I should try to preserve some energy for the Monday. I opened the day in Robert Lang’s class, the “Rif Rif Bird” (rigidly-foldable, rigidly-flapping). This was a flapping bird which did not rely on the paper curving, every movement was articulated with a crease. This was proven using a bird made by taping rigid shapes together before folding and yes, it flapped! Robert’s class was also broadcast and he made a better job of it than I had, not surprisingly. I spent the rest of the morning stooging about and chatting to people.
2pm, I ran a wet-folding class, based upon my “Baby Bird” and “Toad”. Mark Kennedy had kindly given me free access to his mountains of paper, where I found enough Canson paper for my class. I’d bought some sponges in a nearby dime store and the classroom had a large sink on the desk, so all our needs were catered for. We needed nearly all of the hour and I was hard pressed to keep the next class from wandering in after 45 minutes. 4pm had me running a “Jaws! Class, which I felt went well, despite the class being unused to dealing with my brand of Northern Humor.
More restaurant dining in the evening, for the life of me I can’t remember where we went! At 8pm, the “Oversized Folding” event took place in the gymnasium, where teams folded some massive rolls of paper into a wide variety of subjects, Jabba the Hutt, Godzilla, a Palmer Flower-Tower and the wildy over-ambitious attempt at “Five Intersecting Tetrahedra”. As part of a team of judges, we decided to give an award to every single entry and the judging parade at the end was hilarious, highlighted(?) by my running commentary. I have a vague memory of going with some ladies to find an ice-cream parlour around midnight, but memories were blurred by a combination of exhaustion, adrenalin and sheer “having a good time”.
Monday had more of an “academic” theme to it, with classes on designing, teaching, “Bling that Thang” and much more. I attended a class by Susan Dugan on “photographing origami” and learned a great deal from this highly knowledgeable but down to earth teacher. Once positive outcome of the class has been the purchase of a remote control for my Nikon, costing a measly £3.65 including postage. This allows me to trigger long exposures without actually touching the camera.
I missed a class on an origami database project due to the information desk not knowing where it was (!) and spent the afternoon talking, folding, being interviewed and upping my bids in the silent auction. We had a lie down mid-afternoon to ease the swollen ankles and get “duded up” for the Ceremonial Closing Dinner. This began very formally, with delicious food served but soon relapsed into a typical “folders night out” with myself deliberately losing some rounds of Jan Ken Pon (scissors paper stone) to preserve the dignity of Makoto Yamaguchi. We retired to our rooms, or rather Jan Polish’s room, where we solved more of the origami world’s problems until the wee small hours.
For the next few days, we did as much sightseeing as our feet would allow and were taken to a Korean restaurant by Sok Song, where I ate a number of tasty things for the first time. He then hauled us over the road to try some of the most exquisite desserts I’ve ever tasted! In the evening, we went to a fabulous party in the apartment of Trisha Tait. We were graciously offered accommodation with Wendy Zeichner and her husband who live by “Hells Kitchen” and I learned a great deal about how an organisation the size of OUSA functions and discussed the practises that the BOS might usefully adopt.
Friday eventually came, along with Mark Kennedy who drove us back to Allentown to prepare for his and Arlene’s post-convention “Fold’n’Feed” weekend party. I call it a party, but it was more like a small convention, with around 60 people taking over his entire house and alternately folding, chatting and feeding. We had a fabulous time, set off by the emergence at night a 100s of enchanting fireflies – the first time Ali and I had ever seen these magical beasties. Sunday eventually dawned and Faye Goldman kindly drove us to the airport. A 2 hour delay in the flight couldn’t dampen our happiness and despite a restless overnight flight, we managed to greet our taxi driver warmly (I always use and recommend Brills Taxis).
A truly memorable and amazing experience. Our eternal gratitude to all at OUSA and especially those who made our first trip to the States such a pleasurable event.