origami odyssey

It begins with plain colored paper, delicate, thin to the touch. You sit, willing it to become something else. You can conjure whatever you want – those iconic swans, sure, but also flowers, people, emotions. Watch your hands fold, crease, smooth; your mind wanders in and out of the small-scale sculpture, and it feels like a tour, a meditation, a means to something more.

Peter Engel, father of Gabriel ’16, knows what this feels like, and he’s offering a chance for you to feel it too at this Saturday’s Bay Splash with an origami lesson, which he will tailor to the experience of the winning bidder.

An architect by trade, Peter is also somewhat of an origami expert. “I make my own designs,” Peter explained. “I design them, fold them, and I’ve had – over the years – three books and lots of exhibits in museums and galleries and universities.”

His newest book, part of the auction package, will serve as a preview of the fun to come in the lesson. “The book is filled with diagrams like most origami books,” Peter said. “It also has a long essay about my path through life and origami.” But that’s not all: “The [included] DVD was designed and produced by my son Gabriel ’16,” Peter added. “Gabriel has made lots of movies over the years and he does graphic art on the computer, so he and I made the DVD together and he designed and produced it, which was a great collaboration.”

The book is a gem, to be sure, but then there’s the truly one-of-a-kind lesson – a deeper look and guided dive into a truly unique skill. “Origami as an art form derives from the fundamental Japanese aesthetics of simplicity and economy and the power of suggestion,” Peter explained. “Japanese arts like haiku or zen garden design or ink brush painting – they’re all trying to use very minimal means to suggest something much more expansive.”

“Ultimately,” Peter concluded, “the origami design is a kind of abstract sculpture made of planes and lines and shapes and forms, and a viewer brings their own experience to it when they perceive it.”

Having taught origami in all sorts of settings – including at the Asian Art Museum and Berkeley’s math- and science-oriented QuantumCamp – Peter is uniquely able to share this perspective on his passion with people of any experience level. He’s also thoughtful about the ways in which learning and practicing origami can benefit people – kids especially. “Something I always tell parents when their kids are really hooked on origami is how many great skills are involved in doing origami,” Peter said. “There’s eye-hand coordination, analytical thinking, creativity and just doing things with your hands, which is increasingly rare instead of staring at a screen. There’s discipline – you could say it increases your focus and allows you to really get into something very deeply, which is also increasingly rare these days as our attention is sort of scattered all over.”

Peter’s personal experience with origami – which started at age 14 – further informs his teaching. “For me, origami was enormously important in my overall development,” Peter said, “and I just think it’s a really important thing for those kids who are interested in it to be able to pursue it.”

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