Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Origami on Display

Our ThinkSpace exhibit includes what we refer to as a “geometry gallery,” a case that features a rotating display of natural and manmade objects that provide strong visual representations of spatial thinking, highlighting shapes in everyday life and the designed environment.

Yesterday, the exhibits team took down a display of objects on loan from the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab at RISD and installed a selection of vibrant origami created by Thomas Hull, associate professor of mathematics, Western New England University. Tom described his origami background and process.

What inspired your interest in studying the mathematics of origami?
I started doing origami when I was 8 years old.  Sometime around then, maybe when I was 10, I remember taking an origami crane and carefully unfolding it.  I looked at the network of creases on the unfolded paper that had made the crane and I thought, "There has got to be some math or geometry at work here!"  I had no clue what it was, but ever since then I wanted to figure it out.

Describe the kind of origami you make and the pieces on display.
I like to make geometric origami.  That is, I like to capture interesting geometric shapes and patterns in my paper folding. 

Two of my pieces in the display are made from single (large) sheets of paper.  There is a red piece that outlines a frame of a cube.  That is folded from a large red octagon with many parallel pleats made from the sides to the center.  I used the pleats to collapse the paper, and then I twisted it into the cube shape.  To make the paper stay in this shape, I used an origami technique called "wet folding" where one sprays water on the paper with a fine mister, holds the paper in the desired shape, and lets it dry.  Once dry, the paper will retain the shape.  The other model, made from blue paper, is similar but I started with a hexagon and made different pleats and thus got a different shape in the end.

The other models are all modular origami.  They are made from multiple small pieces of paper that have all been folded in the same way and then locked together, without glue, to make the final shape.  It's a sort of "origami meets Legos" idea that is quite popular.  Instructions for many different modular origami projects can be found on the internet.  Several of my modular origami pieces in this exhibit use "duo-colored paper."  For example, the red and black one uses 60 small squares of paper that are red on one side and black on the other.  The shiny pieces are made from paper that is either gold or silver on one side and red on the other.  I like to try to design modular origami units that show off the paper well and make interesting patterns on the finished object.

Thanks to Tom for sharing his wonderful creations and process with us. His origami will be on display until June, so be sure to take a peek on your next visit!

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