The Public Paperfolding History Project

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The Paperfolding of Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono's connection with origami is not often mentioned in the literature of art, but it seems to me an interesting question to ask to what extent her strong connection with origami, in which the end product, the artform, is described in the form of diagrams, influenced her later work where her art is largely in the form of instructions e.g in Grapefruit.




Yoko Ono was born in 1933.



According to this article: 'In the early 60's, Yoko's life was not exactly a bed of roses. Despite the fact that her parents were wealthy and living nearby in Scarsdale, she had cut herself off from that lifestyle, preferring to make it on her own. Toshi occasionally worked as an accompanist for extra money, and Yoko found extra work as a waitress. Yoko also was the manager of an apartment building and taught calligraphy, sumi painting, origami and Japanese folk music in New York's public schools during this "starving artist" period.'


This photo is said to show Yoko Ono at Abraham & Strauss bookshop NYC in 1961' (see anonymous comment here).The article itself dates the photo to 1963, but 1961 is more plausible as Ono appears to be demonstrating designs from the paperfolding kit 'Origami: The Oriental Art of Paper Folding' by Harry C Helfman, which was published by Platt and Munk in New York in 1960, a copy of which can be seen behind her, with a stack of further copies at the bottom right.


This photo, by David Follansbee, shows Ono wearing the same kimono while she folds and is probably from the same year.


This article from the Chicago Daily Tribune of 23rd July 1961 is partly about a forthcoming exhibition of Japanese art at which Yoko Ono is booked to demonstrate origami and calligraphy.


The Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 3 Sep., 1961 pp. 56-57 carried an advert for the exhibition. The second paragraph on the second page mentions Yoko Ono.



The St Louis Post Dispatch of 21 Jan 1962 contained an article about a Mrs Gordon of New York illustrated with pictures of Yoko Ono. Unfortunately the text in the pictures I have managed to obtain from that article are not completely legible. Nor have I been able to obtain a copy of the complete.

It is of interest that in the step by step photos Yoko is folding a penguin created by Giuseppe Baggi, which clearly raises the possibility that they may have been acquainted.

The text at the foot of this page on the left says: ON THE COVER - An origami zoo made of expertly folded paper. In the foreground, a ferociously pink bulldog challenges a majestic purple bull as an alert yellow tiger cautiously keeps an eye on both contestants. Watching from further back are a blue rooster, brown elephant, silver peacock. Flying serenely overhead are two cranes.'

The main introductory text begins: 'Origami the ancient Japanese art of paper-folding is rapidly gaining new adherents in this country. With nothing more than a small sheet of paper a person skilled in the technique can create ...' but quickly becomes impossible to read accurately.



Yoko Ono included a piece about folding paper in her book 'Grapefruit', first published by Wunternaum Press, Tokyo, Japan, in 1964.