INVITING PEOPLE INTO THE FOLD: Sisters advance the art of origami


“The Peace Sphere” (far left), folded by Linda Mihara from one sheet of paper. photo by Linda Mihara

“The Peace Sphere” (far left), folded by Linda Mihara from one sheet of paper. photo by Linda Mihara
“The Peace Sphere,” folded by Linda Mihara from one sheet of paper. photo by Linda Mihara

Raised around the art of origami, Linda Mihara and Vicky Mihara Avery have unfolded the public’s fascination with making art from a single sheet of paper. Recognized as paperfolders, the Mihara sisters have helped establish the art of origami both nationally and internationally. Most recently, Linda Mihara co-curated “Origami Living World” at the National History Museum in Taipei, which is on display through April 17.

Vicky Mihara Avery is a recognized origami teacher. She was awarded the Michael Shall Volunteer Recognition Award in 2000 from OrigamiUSA, a New York-based nonprofit devoted to sharing and preserving the art of paperfolding, and was acknowledged by the Mingei International Museum in San Diego, Calif. for her work in what she said was the first major origami exhibition held in an American museum.

Linda Mihara was awarded the Asian Pacific American Heritage Award in 2015 by the Asian Pacific American Heritage Foundation of San Francisco, as well as awards from the California State Fair’s Fine Art competition under the Fiber category. She also folded the origami American flag that was displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “The Art of Gaman” exhibit in 2010.

The Nichi Bei Weekly connected  with the sisters via e-mail.

Nichi Bei Weekly: Your family has a history within origami in the United States. Can you tell us how it got started and how it influenced you?

Vicky Mihara Avery: Our grandparents Tokinobu Mihara and Hideko Mihara created an import business to bring Japanese goods to the U.S. … As an educator, he wanted to share some Japanese culture with American children and created two volumes of origami instructions — one of the first English-published books on the art of paperfolding.

Linda Mihara: Grandpa’s origami books included actual origami figures and our origami paper. Both were sold at various Japanese retail locations around the country. Over the years, these origami books have been on display at origami exhibits, and now some people recognize them and tell me that it was their very first origami book.

VMH: As the first company to import origami paper in the early ‘50s to the U.S. from Japan, my sister and I always had paper to play with. Our parents decided to discontinue the import company and open Paper Tree — a retail store — in the newly created Japan Center which … opened in 1968. The merchants and community leaders created the Cherry Blossom Festival to bring attention to the community and to share the many aspects of Japanese art, food and culture. Linda and I sat at a table outside … and taught other children how to fold, and it just kept expanding from there.

SISTER ACT —  (At left): Vicky Mihara Avery, left, and Linda Mihara, in front of one of sculptress Ruth Asawa’s Origami Fountains in San Francisco’s Japantown, have helped to popularize and innovate origami, through various works. photo courtesy of  Vicky Mihara Avery,
(At left): Vicky Mihara Avery, left, and Linda Mihara, in front of one of sculptress Ruth Asawa’s Origami Fountains in San Francisco’s Japantown, have helped to popularize and innovate origami, through various works. photo courtesy of
Vicky Mihara Avery,

LM: When Vicky and I taught during those early days of the festival, I learned how wonderful it was to teach origami. As a child, it was fun to teach an adult something new and fun. As an adult, to be able to share it, especially to first timers, is a feeling of satisfaction that never gets old. I feel we carry on Grandpa’s legacy by continuing to teach origami at the Cherry Blossom Festivals.

NBW: Is there any kind of ranking system or recognition of status for origami artists?

VMA: The key to be recognized in the “origami community” is to create and publish an original model. Teachers and artists are also recognized, but not as highly as an origami creator.

LM: I agree with Vicky here. There is no ‘school’ where degrees are given to determine rank like they do in Japan for traditional arts. Origami artists or designers receive recognition through their body of work, whether it is seen at an exhibit, sold in an art gallery, or published in their origami book.
Origami has now reached a level where it needs recognition as a fine art. Having curated origami exhibits both here and abroad, many who view these origami models are not only surprised, but fascinated with the artistry and skill some artists possess. As more and more museums open their doors to origami exhibits, viewers will be able to see how far origami has come from the traditional crane.

NBW: What goes into developing new works or shapes?

VMA: Linda can better answer this one because she is considered to be a fantastic “creator.” For me, I have created two box shapes by playing and exploring folds with a piece of paper, but I’m not in the category of creators. My forte is teaching and lecturing about origami.

LM: When I design an origami piece, I first determine a key characteristic that the model must possess, such as an elephant’s trunk or a rabbit’s long ears. After the basic shape is realized, I begin to fold, adding small details and build the model. It can be a bit of trial and error, or a happy accident that creates something entirely different.

NBW: What is it like to work on origami professionally? How do commissioned pieces differ from personal pieces?

VMA: Folding origami for a professional commission is the easy part. The hard part is the ability to work with a client to achieve their goals and needs. We need to help finalize concepts, meet deadlines, get permission to use a particular origami model, and engage other folders for mass folding when needed.

LM: Working on big projects like TV commercials or large installations are fun and rewarding. I’ve done work for Web, print and TV, and each project challenges me as an origami designer. With these projects, it’s important to achieve what the director wants and it must be exact, clean work. You have to be a problem solver, and be able to adapt to changing demands. This also applies to other commission work.

NBW: How prevalent is origami today? Have you ever encountered origami somewhere you never expected to see it?

VMA: In the early days, origami paper was laboriously created by hand-brushing colors onto paper. Now, automatic, computerized equipment produce millions of packages a year. Origami is more popular than ever!

LM: I see origami elements everywhere. But I was surprised to see the development of origami with the Vietnamese and South American communities. They have embraced the art and formed clubs in a very short period of time

NBW: What are some of the most interesting or complex designs you have created in the past?

LM: There are two complex designs and one fun/interesting one. The Peace Sphere — a sphere of 18 cranes folded from a single sheet of paper. It is an extension of an old origami technique from the 1700s, where cranes are folded from a single sheet of paper, with cuts, but no glue. The second is the Kimono Jacket — my first wearable piece folded from a single sheet of paper. The fun/interesting piece is my Dollar Bill Bull-folded from a $1 bill and features ‘eyes,’ which appear in the bill’s design.

NBW: Where can people learn more about origami?

VMA: There are many YouTube videos — not all of them are good, but many are enthusiastic teachers. Visit our Website ( for links for more information. Local origami groups meet at libraries all across the country. Visit to see a list of regional groups.

The Mihara sisters and other origami artists will participate in the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival Saturday and Sunday, April 9, 10, 16 and 17 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Japanese American Citizens League National Headquarters, 1765 Sutter St., in San Francisco’s Japantown. People can also catch them at the Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival, Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Cupertino Memorial Park, 10185 N Stelling Road, Cupertino, Calif.

One response to “INVITING PEOPLE INTO THE FOLD: Sisters advance the art of origami”

  1. Alexander Windsor Avatar

    hi i would like to contact Vicky to share some of my advance origami talents”I live in Belize”
    My name is Alexander Windsor i live in the Cayo district, santiago juan layout for more information please contact me at

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