Oregon Art Beat

Portland origami artists recall historic convention as art moves online during pandemic

By Steven Tonthat (OPB)
Oct. 22, 2020 1 p.m.

Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of origami!


In 2019, hundreds of origami artists and enthusiasts visited the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Northeast Portland for the Pacific Coast Origami USA Convention. It was the first time the bi-annual convention was held in Oregon.

For four days, fans of the Japanese paper folding art spent time mingling with each other, taking in beautiful origami pieces on display and learning from some of origami’s most renowned teachers.

The convention started as a companion to the yearly origami conference in New York, and it takes place every two years at a different city on the West Coast.

Yuki Martin, a Portland-based origami artist and instructor, helped bring the national event to Oregon.

“I just felt like it would be fun for us to host it here because we’ve never had done that here,” she said. “There are a lot of creative people here and if we can host it here, I think people who come to Portland will benefit from the art scenes here.”


Martin became involved with the West Coast chapter of OrigamiUSA after she started attending conventions.

She grew up folding origami in her native Japan to learn about shapes and refine basic motor skills.

“It can be as simple as folding a few times or it can be as complex as hundreds, maybe thousands of folds to make something that is pretty realistic.”

Janessa Munt, a Portland-based origami artist who specializes in making designs out of dollar bills, also attended the event. For her, Portland was an easy choice to hold the country’s largest origami convention.

“Especially with something as niche as origami, a lot of times people don’t really get to interact with other people who are into the same thing,” she said.

Munt appreciated the convention being held in Portland given how underrepresented the origami community is at large.

“When you have all these great minds who are really good at it," Munt said, "people are able to learn from each other and just progress a lot faster than people would be able to independently.”

Both Munt and Martin hope that the conference will open the public’s eyes and imagination to the possibilities origami can bring.

“I’m hoping that people will realize that origami is not just paper cranes and fortune tellers and just the little things that people tend to look at done by children. It’s way more than that,” Munt said.

“It seems so limited to just fold the paper from one sheet of paper, but the possibilities are so unlimited,” Yuki said.

Plans for the 2020 convention were changed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of having in-person meetups, the convention was moved entirely online. As for Yuki, she started putting up how-to videos online to keep engaged with people discovering the art.


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REBROADCAST: The mathematical beauty of origami

We listen back to a conversation with Robert J. Lang, a leading origami artist and former physicist for NASA. He came to town in the fall of 2019 for the Pacific Coast OrigamiUSA Convention. We talked with Lang about how the mathematics and beauty behind origami can be used to solve real-world problems.