Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Origami group shapes papers, lives and friendships

From page A1 | December 26, 2012 | Leave Comment

Glenn Sapaden helps Nicholas Sokolov, 7, fold a dollar bill turtle at the December meeting of the Davis Origami Group. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

Join the fun

What: Davis Origami Group’s next meeting

When: 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5

Where: Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St., Davis


Tom Vinik stands in the center of a corral of tables, carefully explaining to a group of children and adults the basics of creating a folded paper tear-drop ornament to decorate the Stephens Branch Library’s Christmas tree.

“OK, open up the paper again and make the other colored triangle,” he says, holding a piece of colored paper above his head. “We call it a preliminary fold! A lot of things start off with this.”

The Davis Origami Group, a club that meets monthly at the library, organized the event; Vinik, 56, is a member. The group uses its monthly meeting time as a way to introduce the basics of the Japanese art of paper-folding to beginners, as well as practice and discuss origami with advanced enthusiasts.

“We have elementary school kids to someone who’s over 70. And within that group, the kid can be more skilled than the adult,” said Judy Ng, 46, a Davis resident and a co-founder of the group. “Anyone can learn. We welcome all ages and experience levels.”

“It’s our passion,” said Glenn Sapaden, a 56-year-old attorney from Elk Grove and co-founder of the group. “Unlike other forms of art, origami is not additive or subtractive, it’s transformative.”

Sapaden is married to Susan Nonaka, another co-founder of the group. Nonaka, a third-generation Japanese-American, has been folding since she was 5, when her mother taught her how to make her first folded crane. At the end of their first date, Sapaden showed off his signature origami skill: creatively folding a dollar bill as a tip.

“I had no idea he knew anything about origami,” Nonaka said.

They married soon after in an origami-themed wedding, and have spent their marriage traveling together to annual conferences such as the Pacific Coast OrigamiUSA Conference in San Francisco. There they met fellow folders from Davis, and agreed to help set up a Davis-based origami club in 2009. While the core members of the group have been folding since childhood, traveling to conferences and developing origami specialties, their message is more of community than competition.

“It doesn’t have to be super-complex to be good origami. The tradition of origami is just to share your ideas with other people,” Nonaka said. “In a way, I think the simpler pieces help to bring people together.”

“It’s a language of sorts,” said Ryan Naccarato, 23, group member and UC Davis student.

Origami has expanded the notion of community for several members of the group. Though he is one of the younger members, Naccarato’s passion for origami already has pushed him to compete in international origami competitions, such as the Red Bull Paper Wings competition in Austria, where he won first place in his division for his aerodynamic paper airplane.

Origami also has broken borders for Vinik. He first became interested in the art as a kindergartner in the early 1960s, when a visiting Japanese Episcopalian priest stayed with his family for Thanksgiving and taught him some origami. His childhood devotion to origami has lasted ever since.

Vinik moved from folding discarded gum wrappers and newspapers to finer paper and non-paper materials. He has folded origami that was displayed in Gov. Jerry Brown’s office during his first term, as well as dozens of unique candy wrappers into the shape of the official Californian symbol for recycling for the California State Fair.

But he discovered his passion for teaching after reading “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” a nonfiction book about a young Japanese girl who developed cancer after being exposed to the radioactive fallout of the Hiroshima bomb. She attempted to fold 1,000 cranes in the hope that the gods would grant her wish to live.

Inspired by her story, Vinik folded his first 1,000 paper cranes in 1981, teaching children at the library how to do the same. Encouraged by the experience, he spent the next 35 years teaching Davis schoolchildren origami.

But Vinik still wanted to accomplish his lifelong goal of visiting Japan, particularly the memorial to Sadako in the Hiroshima Peace Park.

“Ever since the priest came, I wanted to go to Japan and make a wish come true for myself,” Vinik said.

Finally, in 1997, his family saved enough money for him to make the trip. He visited the statue, and met Sadako’s mother.

Despite the fact that Vinik has now created 1,000 cranes a total of 14 times, he says he hasn’t used any of his wishes yet.

“I’m saving my wishes for when I really need one,” Vinik said.

— Reach Anna Sturla at


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