Napkins in Basel

Following the wonderful Didactics Conference (report coming soon) Wayne, Joan and I went to Basel to check out his exhibition of napkin folds at the Toy World Museum. This building in the centre of the city has a superb collection of wooden toys, exquisitely carved and displayed. They also host Joans exhibition until 07/04/13.

The display is simply stunning. Napkin folding on a scale and diversity I’ve never encountered before. Looking through images from old books, you are tempted to think “it looks great, but surely you couldn’t do that with napkins?” The answer is, yes, you can! The type of simple folds I was familiar with are but the entree to this feast of folding, which culminates in a massive pair of lions on with side of a temple.

For many years, Joan has tried to persuade us that Europe has a tradition of folding as deep and rich as that of Japan. This exhibition goes a long way towards proving that. As you look at the dozens of exhibits, you’re struck by how many look like contemporary origami. There’s a peacock straight from a JOAS book, a 3m display of what appears to be Floderer-type folds, but which is 400 years old. Perhaps most interestingly, there was a snake with a tongue formed by what we know as “box pleating”, again many hundreds of years before Elias discovered it.

If you get the chance to visit it, I urge you to do so. Best of all, Joan told us that in January he will set up a similar display in Bath, so us Brits can get to learn from and enjoy his research. You will eb staggered at the work he has done, both in research terms as well as in technique – he has had to re-learn these lost techniques with very little information and has made a superb job of it.

I’ve posted some photos on a new facebook page I set up for Joan, plus you can see more images at the museum website. Finally, there’s a discussion area on the Didactics forum for you to share your knowledge.


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