The Public Paperfolding History Project

Index Page


The Paperfolding of Lillian Oppenheimer


Lillian Rose Vorhaus was born in New York on 24th October 1898 and died on 24th July 1992. She was the daughter of Bernard Vorhaus, a merchant in furs, who had immigrated from Poland and Mollie Amelia Vorhaus (nee Grossman) who was born in New York.

In 1918, at the age of nineteen, she married Joseph Kruskal. Lillian and Joseph had five children: three sons, William, (known as Bill), Martin David and Joseph, and two daughters, Rosaly and Molly. Joseph died in 1950.

In 1954 Lillian married her second husband Harry C Oppenheimer.


Main Sources Consulted

(1) David Lister on Lillian Oppenheimer and Her Friends.

Video: Lillian Oppenheimer "My Life" Part I | OrigamiUSA




Lillian Rose Vorhaus was born in New York on 24th October 1898.



Lillian married Joseph Kruskal and became Lillian Kruskal.



Lillian's daughter Molly, now seven years old, became seriously ill. During her convalescence Lillian purchased a copy of the newly published 'Fun with Paperfolding' by William D . Murray and Francis J. Rigney and folded some of the designs it contained together. This was Lillian's first contact with paperfolding.



Lillian's first husband, Joseph Kruskal, died.



Her cousin-by-marriage, Judy Oppenheimer, persuaded Lillian to accompany her to a series of classes about paperfolding taught by Emily Rosenthal who had trained in Germany as a teacher in the tradition of the Froebel kindergarten and had come to New York during the war to escape the Nazi persecution. One of the designs taught during these classes was the Flapping Bird. (1)



Lillian married Harry C Oppenheimer (the father of Judy Oppenheimer's husband) and became Lillian Oppenheimer.

'Following her marriage, Lillian and Harry went to live in a penthouse apartment above the Hotel Irving at 26 Gramercy Park South, New York. Harry was in the clothing trade and specialised in lining materials. By all accounts he was very successful and his business took him on frequent trips around the United States and abroad and Lillian often accompanied him. She became a seasoned traveller but found she had to endure frequent waits in airport lounges and also in hotels while Harry was at meetings. It was during these interminable waits that Lillian discovered what an excellent pastime paperfolding was. It could be done any time and anywhere and the only material it required was ordinary paper. Harry was very supportive of Lillian's activities. They were a devoted couple and had many shared interests, especially making music together. But Lillian was free to develop her own interests in whatever way she wished. She became an amateur ventriloquist and later took up puppetry in addition to paperfolding.' (1)



Lillian Oppenheimer's son Bill Kruskal gave her a copy of Robert Harbin's 'Paper Magic' in early 1957. Lillian immediately wrote to Robert Harbin and when she made her normal annual trip to London to visit her daughter Rosaly, in April of that year, she asked him to meet with her. (1)

According to Lillian's own account (lillian on robert harbin - YouTube), when they met Robert Harbin showed her all his papers and books on paperfolding. Robert Harbin then told Lillian about Gershon Legman and gave her Akira Yoshizawa's address so that she could write to him

‘Lillian also went on to France to try to meet Gershon Legman, but he was away from his home. Nevertheless Lillian began to correspond with him and also with Akira Yoshizawa and Ligia Montoya, whom Gershon Legman had discovered.’ (1)

At some point in this period Yoshizawa sent Lillian a copy of his book 'Origami Dukuhon'.(2)



Thoki Yenn's archived website (see above) mentions that he met Lillian Oppenheimer in Copenhagen in this year, presumably around April when Lillian normally went to London to see her daughter Rosalie.

In (2) (at around 12:00) Lillian gives an account of this meeting.


On 27th June 1958 Meyer Berger's 'About New York' column in the New York Times featured Lillian Oppenheimer and her love of paperfolding. The column was titled 'Origami, the Ancient Art of Paper-Folding, has Gramercy Square Disciple.' It stated that she had been doing origami for 30 years and also mentioned John Nordquist, Robert Neil (sic), Gershon Legman, Ligia Montoya, Robert Harbin, Thoky Yen (sic) and Akira Yoshizawa.



Meyer Berger advertised some origami classes that Oppenheimer was giving in another of his About New York columns, which was published on 6th October 1958.


Lillian Oppenheimer founded her 'Origami Center' in October 1958 (the inaugural meeting took place on Monday October 6th) and published Volume 1, Issue 1 of 'The Origamian' in the same month. Issues 2 and 3 were published in November and December. As far as I know, at this stage, the 'Origami Centre' name was just a useful umbrella for Lillian and Frieda Lourie's paperfolding activities and had no formal funds or organisation.



Issues of 'The Origamian' were published in January and March 1959.



Lillian Oppenheimer contributed a preface to Samuel Randlett's book 'The Art of Origami' which was published in 1961. The book also contains a section on 'Teaching Origami' which explains Lillian Oppenheimer's method of teaching the Flapping Bird.



Vol 9: Issue 3 of 'The Origamian' for Autumn 1969 contained an article, 'What is the Origami Center', written by Alice Gray, which contains the following sentence neatly summing up Lillian Oppenheimer's early contribution to origami:



Lillian Oppenheimer died on July 24, 1992.