Paper magic


POSTED: Monday, January 19, 2009

Michael LaFosse found his calling at age 13, and it was as though he'd climbed to the top of a mountain, found a wise man in meditation and asked, “;Oh master, what is the meaning of life?”; The revelation was that pivotal.





        » On exhibit: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily through Feb. 15

» Place: Origamido Studio, second floor, International Market Place


» Admission: $5


» Call: 922-9431



What really happened, though, was that on an ordinary summer day in 1971 in Fitchburg, Mass., young LaFosse opened an issue of Reader's Digest and read an article about origami master Akira Yoshizawa.

LaFosse already had special fondness for origami, despite the lonely fact that he was the only kid he knew of who loved folding paper. He'd borrowed all the origami books at the local library and had mastered the folding of the crane. But on this day, LaFosse would understand that origami was to be at the nucleus of his life's work.

“;The opening spread showed Yoshizawa's face on one page and his self-portrait in origami on the other, and it was so artful, like a Rembrandt drawing. It really moved me,”; he recalls. “;I read that article over and over and over, and I felt, 'That's me.'”;

LaFosse began designing his own origami; his first, at 13, was a penguin created out of a church bulletin. By 16 the young man realized that he lacked the right kind of paper for his complex designs. As fate would have it, Pittsburgh is a paper mill town, and LaFosse was allowed to use the labs of local mills to create archival paper just the right size, color and thickness for each project.

Today, LaFosse and his partner, Richard Alexander, continue to supply handmade paper to origami masters across the globe through Origamido, which encompasses their paper-making business, origami books and DVDs and a gallery showcasing pieces from around the world.

In October, LaFosse and Alexander moved Origamido's gallery to Hawaii, to a space on the second floor of the International Market Place. They felt confident about the move. After all, Origamido had been commissioned by the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue and Hermes for the stores' Fifth Avenue window displays in New York. And after phenomenal success showing origami art in such venues as the Louvre in France and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., to crowds reaching 100,000, the duo felt the Hawaii community, with its Asian influences, would respond well.

“;But it was like the perfect storm,”; Alexander says. The economic downturn, the inability to sell their Massachusetts home, low tourism numbers and a lack of local traffic in the gallery have them planning a move back home at the end of February. They may even have to find work outside the origami world, Alexander says.

LaFosse, however, hasn't completely closed the door. If there's one thing he's learned, it's that you never know what comes next.

“;There have been so many steppingstones that led me to this,”; he says. “;I saw the article at a young age, I bumped into Richard—how would I know he'd be the one person who'd be enthusiastically supportive of what I do? It's just amazing.”;