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For One Man, Origami Unfolds a Better Life

  • Shelley Schlender

At the public library in Boulder, Colorado, Ken Fowler is a popular member “The Boulder Folders,” a club where people gather to practice origami, the Japanese art of folding paper into decorative shapes and figures.

“I think getting together and folding is a lot more fun than doing it by yourself,” says the group’s director, Barbara Gardner.

The Boulder Folders is one of 70 origami clubs in the U.S. There are nearly 50 international origami clubs, all filled with people like Fowler, who love to fold.

“Ken is really motivated," says Gardner. "He’s a good learner. He’s done a lot of things to figure out how to fold things. He’s learned to read diagrams and he’s become a wonderful teacher.”

Fowler also likes to share his origami with friends who suffer from mental health issues ranging from major depression to schizophrenia.

He says origami helped him find meaning three years ago when he was hospitalized for a depression that was so severe, doctors recommended shock therapy. But then an art teacher at the hospital introduced him to origami.

“My hands were shaking so much that I just couldn’t really get it," Fowler remembers. "But we just kept persisting and we made these birds.”

He believes origami helped his depression lift. “You can really relax with it. There’s no hurry. It’s not competitive.”

A documentary about origami by Vanessa Gould called, "Between the Folds," also inspired him to learn more about the ancient art, and how to teach it to other people.

“If you can’t figure out where you’re at, and you’re wondering where you’re at in your life," Fowler says, "you just unfold it.”

He views origami as a metaphor for life; you can always roll out the creases, unfold where you’re at, and start folding to make a new pattern.

He’s perfected the art to such an extent that Fowler's been hired to teach origami classes at community centers. In the process, a new career has unfolded.