My Lost Models Found
After 50 Years

By Akira Yoshizawa (August 15, 2004)

In 1955, my first exhibition abroad was held in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It was well reported in the Dutch press and in various newspapers in Europe, North and South America, introducing Origami as a new figurative art. Later, I was told and believed that all my works exhibited in Amsterdam and New York were lost after the exhibitions. My heart ached with regret and deep sorrow, not knowing what had happened to them.
After 50 years, some of my works were returned to me on June 28th, 2004. Even though not all came back, I felt so happy to have these precious models back in my hands.
Here, I would like to report to you how they were found and came back to me. I believe that these early works of mine represent an important part in the history of Origami. First, I would like to tell you how I came to know Prof. Gershon Legman who introduced me to the West.
Around 1950, Prof. Gershon Legman and I started to correspond with each other. He, who had studied traditional Origami while teaching at Harvard University, was interested in my creative Origami. We exchanged information, ideas, and thoughts on Origami. In 1953, he found copies of Japanese classical Origami books which were named "Kanomado" in the Library of Congress. He wrote to me asking me to find the original books of "Kanomado". He sent me a hand written drawing "dragonfly".
"Kayaragusa", commonly known as "The Kanomado" written by Kazuyuki Adachi. It was a compiled and handwritten private encyclopedia which must have taken several years to finish. It comprises 233 slender volumes, which were completed in 1845. Among them were 8 volumes of Kayaragusa in which articles written about Origami cover 62 pages. Most of the folding methods are well known by now, but the diagrams of folding paper are very precious and valuable. As for Kayaragusa, I hope to publish my research on another occasion.
Now it is well known where we can find "Kanomado". But, at that time, it was not easy to find them. I went to various libraries of the Asahi Newspapers in Tokyo and Osaka, and other libraries which might have books on classics. At present, it is much easier to find them on the internet. It is very difficult for me to find them right after the end of the War when nobody had time for Origami. Finally, I found copies of Kayaragusa at the Asahi Newspapers in Osaka. (See Origami Tsusin.)
I wrote a report answering Prof. Legman's request. Our friendship deepend. Prof. Legman felt strongly and suggested that my works should be brought to the West. During this period, he moved from the United States to live in Valbonne, South France. It was decided to have an exhibition in Paris. About 10 years passed after the end of the War and I was given quite a number of opportunities to publish my works in newspapers and magazines. I had quite a lot of works in my stock and devoted myself in creating new models with new ideas. Before the exhibition abroad, I exhibited at the Gallery of Toden Service Center in Tokyo. Various newspapers carried news of exhibition. I was very poor but was able to send by airmail my models to Prof. Legman with the money I received from the newspapers. They arrived in Paris too late for the planned exhibition. Prof. Legman tried to find other places for the exhibition. With Mr. Felix Tikotin's help, he has given permission to put on an exhibition at the Stedlijt Museum in Amsterdam. It attracted many people and received a favorable response from newspapers and magazines in many countries. Origami was recognized as a new Japanese figurative art in the world. The late Ambassador Suemasa Okamoto of the Japanese Embassy in Netherlands attended the exhibition and sent me a letter of appreciation and copies of various newspapers carrying articles on my exhibition. He noted that the feelings toward Japan in Europe at that time were not favorable and the exhibition helped to foster a better relationship between the Netherlands and Japan. I was deeply moved by his comment.

In 1959, Mrs. Lillian Oppenheimer asked me to exhibit my works in New York. Around this time, I did not have much in stock, so I told her to exhibit the models shown at the Exhibition in Amsterdam. In addition to them, I sent her a large peacock, mask and other models directly from Japan. The Exhibition at the Cooper Union was given the title "Plane Geometry and Fancy Figures". My works were displayed in the Origami section, and were acclaimed to be far and away the finest.
I was asked by Director Calvin S. Hathaway to visit the Museum during the Exhibition, but it was not possible for me to attend. After the Exhibition at the Cooper Union, Mrs. Oppenheimer wished to continue to exhibit my models in various states, but she had no objective plans, so I asked her to return my models. She wrote me saying that all of my works would be returned to me, but none came back. I feel a responsibility now to clarify the numbers of models I sent Prof. Legman, of those which were sent to Mrs. L. Oppenheimer, and of those which were found and returned to me this time. In addition, I should classify the models based on my correspondence with Prof. Legman, printed materials and my own fading memories.
In 1972, The Japan Foundation dispatched me to Scandinavian countries, England, and France. When I was in France, I went to see Prof. Legman in Valbonne. He met us at his atelier surrounded by olive trees, and told me, "I sent all your works to Mrs. Oppenheimer except these three mice on the table, and I miss your models." I, the creator of these works, was filled with deep regret. Mrs. Oppenheimer did not return my models. After the small exhibition at her son's University, she arranged to show my models at the auditorium of the Japan Center in New York. It was a rather informal exhibition for only one day. Many people came and one by one took away the models as souvenirs. And all were gone. I wonder who has them now.
In 1991, When I was sent by the Japan Foundation to the United States and Canada, I met Mrs. L. Oppenheimer. She was obviously most embarrassed and ashamed about what had happened to my precious models.
In 1999, Prof. Legman passed away, and in 1993, Mrs. Oppenheimer had died. Those who were related to the Exhibition in Amsterdam were no longer alive. My models were lost somewhere. Only the old newspaper clippings which carried the news of the Exhibiton were left in my hands. My deep regret was not only for myself but also for the history of Origami.
In the August issue of British Origami, No. 221 in 2003, the photo of my "Owl" with a short comment appeared. In the following issue, No.222, my "Self-portrait" which was sent to the Exhibition in Amsterdam in 1955, appeard again. I was truly astonished and incredulous to see them.

Around this time, I was busy with the Exhibition in Tochigi-ken, my birth place. After this Exhibition, I wrote a letter to Mr. David Lister of BOS in February, 2004. He has been researching and studying the relationship between Prof. Legman and myself, and written many reports on my work and life. I have given him all the information and materials including my correspondence with Prof. Legman. He immediately relayed my request to Mr. David Brill, Chairman of BOS. I noted that Mr. Legman had some of my works, under his care which I had neither given nor sold to him. I sent them on loan to him trusting him completely. Mrs. Legman (his first wife passed away right after the Exhibition) did not know the background of my models and donated them to BOS as Mr. Legman's collection. BOS felt very fortunate to receive such a collection of my early 1950's models, which were rather valuable from the historical viewpoint. BOS commented and noticed the high state of preservation of the work, and my establishing many groundbreaking design's in my 40's. The BOS was surprised to realize that the models had been carefully packaged in specially designed boxes so they were kept in good conditions. I noted that all the models found after 50 years are mine and requested BOS to return them to me explaining that these were precious and valuable for the history of modern and creative Origami and would be a landmark to be remembered by Origami artists. As a token of my appreciation, I proposed BOS to contribute some of my other works.
On june 28, 2004, two parcels arrived at P.O.Box 3, Oguikubo Post Office. The models were in the boxes I had used to send them to Amsterdam 50 years ago. They remained in good shape, as I had put each of them in a hand made box. Some were in almost perfect condition, but other were stained and needed to be fixed, as many people touched them with their bare hands. All my works are like my children, though some look old and tired. I was deeply moved at seeing my own signiture and comment written on the back of my models as "My Self-portrait" in June 1955.
I am so grateful for being able to see my own works objectively after half a century. These models are still fresh, eye-opening, heart-warming and stay so humble. Looking at my early works, I feel these are true basics alive from which I have come to create and develop ideas for present models. I feel confident now that I opened the right path for the future of creative Origami at that time.
I am very happy to see that everyone enjoys Origami but at the same time I hope that they can reach the point of creative Origami which will be accepted as figurative art.
My wishes are to exhibit my early works which were recognized abroad as a new figurative art 50 years ago, in order to promote the world of creative Origami.

Welcome! Origami Visitors

On August 27th, we had a fruitful gathering at the Yoshizawa's Atelier welcoming several visitors from abroad, who attended the Origami Convention of other group in Tokyo. Among them, Mr. David Brill, Chairman of BOS who gave us his help and cooperation for returning my early works found after 50 years, was present. Seeing the well preserved Yoshizawa's models, we discussed and exchanged our thoughts on the past, present and future of Creative Origami.
Photo: Front (from left) Mr. Baxter (New Zealand), Mr. Yoshizawa, Mr. Brill (England), Ms. Sakamoto (U.S.A.)
The back row: Mrs. Yoshizawa, The Ichiyamas, Mr. Yamaguchi (Chairman, Origami Tanteidan) and Ms. Kay (U.S.A.)