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How I Got Started Making Mobiles: History of Origami and My Introduction to Origami and Mobiles
Origami is often defined as the art of folding paper to create three-dimensional figures of animals, people, objects, and shapes. The Japanese word “origami” is a combination of the verb oru (to fold) and the noun kami (paper).
My dad taught me how to fold a paper boat when I was 6, and I remember playing with my paper boats in the glorious puddle that formed in front of our home after every rainstorm. I didn't realize at the time that this was my first experience with origami until a few years later.
In the fourth grade I was introduced to the paper crane. My teacher had our class read “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” and taught us how to fold a crane. Our class folded 1000 paper cranes to ship to Sadako’s monument in Hiroshima, Japan. After this I was totally hooked on origami - I especially loved folding cranes out of any paper I'd be holding just to pass the time (event programs, gum wrapers, and napkins).
The Story of Sadako Sasaki
In 1955 a Japanese girl named Sadako was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of twelve. Her cancer developed as a result of the radiation from the Hiroshima bombing in 1945 when she was 2 years old. In the hospital she learned of a legend where a wish would be granted to anyone who folded 1000 paper cranes. With the wish to be healed, Sadako began folding 1000 paper cranes, but only managed to complete 644 of her 1000 cranes. Even though Sadako died within a year of her diagnosis, her story lives to this day, and there is a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane in the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan.
The words, “This is our cry, this is our prayer, peace in the world” are inscribed at the bottom of the statue.
As a child I was captivated by this story of Sadako and her 1000 paper cranes, and over the years I’ve folded thousands of origami paper cranes. Everything about origami fascinated me and I learned how to fold numerous other origami models besides the crane – a worldwide symbol of peace, love, and long life. My favorite origami model is still the paper crane, and I will always remember the day I learned how to fold my very first crane.
An Otagiri Sailboat Mobile
Incidentally, that same fourth grade teacher had a delicate sailboat mobile hanging above a classroom window, a mobile made by the Otagiri Company in Japan. I wasn’t much of a daydreamer in school, but I spent lots of time staring at that mobile in wonder – watching the little boats dance in the breeze. The perfect balance of each wire fascinated me, and I attempted to construct several extravagant mobiles at home with little success.
Years later while working as a grader for this same teacher (who to my delight still had the mobile by the window) I studied this mobile with fresh eyes, observing the way each boat hung from the wires and the way they never collided. I replaced a few missing sails with colored paper so the mobile could once again be properly balanced and complete.
It wasn't until the summer of 2006 that I finally sat down and focused and made a mobile where the different levels didn't bump into each other and get all tangled. At first I started making mobiles as gifts for friends, and then a friend suggested I try selling them. Before long I was selling mobiles on eBay, Etsy, and soon my own website by 2007.
By 2012 my original mobile design was basically finalized - I don't deviate too much from it at this point. Then, in August 2013 I stopped working with aluminum wires and switched to the bright stainless steel that I use to this day. My business started out being called "Hanging Origami" (because I wanted to be able to sell all sorts of origami things that you can hang), but in 2014, after much brainstorming, the name was changed to "The Timeless Crane."
In 2016 when both of my kids were in school full time I really dove into my art full-time, and found out about Danielle from The Merriweather Council. She teaches handmade sellers how to "turn your crafty tendencies into profits." Based on what I learned from her, and the changes I made to my site and Etsy shop, The Timeless Crane really started to take off. I have since had my art featured in various places.
Thinking About the Future vs Where I Am Now
Sometimes I feel doubt about what I do and how much time and effort it takes to create my art – I think I should be doing something easier and less time-consuming. I can draw well, so why don’t I sell art prints instead? I’d only have to make one original and then sell the copies. Or what if my mobiles had paper cutouts instead of intricately hand folded origami models?
Maybe one day I’ll have other things hanging from my wire frames – things manufactured as opposed to hand folded – it certainly would allow me to have items available at lower price points. But those lower price points would be for items with less soul.
Maybe one day I’ll hire people to fold the origami for me and I’ll just design the mobiles and choose the papers. My business may even grow to the point where I can hire people to do everything and I will just oversee the company and make decisions about branding and style. But then I wouldn’t be a part of the creation of every Timeless Crane Mobile.
Maybe one day you’ll be able to buy one of my mobiles at a Pottery Barn Kids, or Land of Nod, or through West Elm. Perhaps my company will be so large that I’ll have to outsource to China because it will grow beyond being cost effective to make mobiles here at home. But then nothing about what I did would be personal, and I would never see or even hear directly from my customers anymore.
Maybe one day things will change as my business grows… But for today I’m just one person creating beautiful art that has character and personality and brings joy and peace to people’s lives.