At 86, Kit Currie is still folding origami boxes
KIT Currie recently showed a visitor around the Manhattan apartment she has lived in since the late 1970s. There are lots of books, probably because Currie, who is 86 and was born in England, spent more than 40 years working for rare book dealers like Bertram Rota in London, Dawson’s in Los Angeles and HP Kraus in New York. She also has dozens of origami boxes on display – some of the pieces she has made over the years.
It was at Dawson’s, where she ultimately ran the Oriental department, that she first became interested in Japanese art and later came across a book on origami. (It is also where she met her husband, the late Abe Lerner, a wellknown typographer and book designer.) Currie started fiddling with folding, and a hobby was born.
Kevin Brynan, owner of the West Village store Mxyplyzyk, met Currie through mutual friends in the neighbourhood and is now selling a selection of her work.
“The boxes are sweet,” he said, “the result of someone taking time to make something by hand. It’s a type of craft that you don’t see much of anymore.” While she doesn’t make boxes as fast as she used to, Currie is still passionate about origami and took the time to tell a visitor her story.
Q. When did you start? A. It was just before I left Dawson’s to move to New York in the ‘70s. I didn’t really get into it until I was here in the city, where it was easier to buy paper. I bought a book and it showed you what to do, the different folds you could make. I made what everybody makes, birds and chickens and things.
Then I found you could do geometric shapes and that’s what got me. So I started making boxes in the late ‘70s, making different sizes and colours from papers I found interesting.
What is your process? Does the paper inspire the shape of what you’re making? Not necessarily. I think, “Oh, I’ll make a box today. Shall I make a rectangle box or a square box?” Then I look at my paper and think, “Yes, that blue and that yellow would be nice together.” Anybody could do it.
I really don’t think I could, not like these.
You can! I bought the book, and it had examples of boxes, and I made the examples. Then, later on, I found I could do a bit of variation, maybe make this bit smaller or this bit bigger or something like that. Mostly I just followed the instructions, really.
Are there certain papers that are better than others? It should always have a certain weight to it, except for the tiny boxes, but mostly you can use anything.
Except tissue, it won’t hold together.
Does newspaper work? I never tried it. I fear the ink would come off. It wouldn’t make anything very attractive, from my point of view.
What about patterns? The pattern can be anything, can be geometric, can be flowers, can be plain papers. I don’t have shades I prefer, I use all colours and all sorts of patterns. It’s just what appeals to me at a moment, like an artist with his paints, I suppose.
Some of these are very intricate, with negative space or complicated shapes.
It can take as many as 12 pieces of paper to make one. Here’s a triangular one, it really is a box: it’s functional, it opens.
They’re quite modern feeling.
Yes, I suppose so. Maybe that’s what I liked about Japanese art, it seemed to remain the same through the centuries.
Is this an owl on a tree? It’s amazing.
I threw a lot of things away that I had made. I thought they were nothing special.
But I like that one. That was from an idea I saw in a book – I mean, I didn’t invent it. I just wanted to know how to do a tree.
How long does it take to make something like that? They don’t take longer than two hours, but you know you select the papers, you fold, maybe you try different variations: would this colour go better, or this one? It does take a while.
That sounds very meditative.
I usually do it listening to music. I am a big opera fan.
Which operas make the best folding music? Verdi and Mozart, because they are my favourites. And for paper folding, I also play Schubert.
I understand you’ve never sold your creations before.
I never sold the boxes, it never occurred to me. But I could use the space so I could make some more. I used to give them to people who I visited.
How were they received? People were always polite, you know. Although they might have thrown them away after I left. Or given them to the cat to play with.