Nathan and the Dragon

My young friend Nathan who is 12,  has been very busy folding dragons….specifically, Eastern Red Regal Dragons, to donate to Passport to Forever, being held this Saturday, November 4th. (Passport is a fabulous gala event to benefit the International Adoption Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.)

Nathan is kindly volunteering his time and talent to benefit the organization that helped his parents over ten years ago, as they went through the process of adopting him from his birth country of Korea. Years ago, the IAC was there to offer guidance and support to Nathan's parents, and now young Nathan has committed his free time to folding 25 intricate and awesome dragons to be used as centerpieces and then auctioned to the highest bidder to benefit the hospital.

Folding for Good, is a division of Origami Salami, a club for origami folders based on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (S.T.E.M). Origami Salami and Folding for Good was founded by Calista Fredrick-Jaskiewiscz about a year ago when Calista was 15. To recap… Calista founded, and then Nathan became local chapter president of a S.T.E.M based origami club that made volunteering their brilliant origami skills and talent a top priority. And they did this when Calista was 15 and Nathan, 11 years old.

Yes, these kids are just that cool.

When I visited Nathan last week, he gave me a step by step demonstration on folding his dragon. The whole folding process took about 45 minutes, though sometimes for fun, Nathan keeps track of the creation time of each dragon. His record stands at 37 minutes.

Nathan is a remarkable young man for many reasons. He is quite efficient at folding a Jun Maekawa designed Eastern Dragon (level of difficulty:high) in 37 minutes with the added challenge of being born without his right arm. He uses his right foot in his folding, which performs  the same duty that his right hand would be called to do.

When I asked him if his foot ever got tired, this was his thoughtful answer…

"No… most folders will use one hand dominantly, using the other for holding the model, coaxing the paper into position. My feet take over for the lesser used hand."

As Nathan continued to fold, his dragon began to develop a little bit of an attitude, when I asked him about it he noted that each dragon takes on a different personality "…based on the angles at which their head and limbs are positioned." (As true in humans as it is in origami dragons…head and limb angles almost always reflect personal sassiness.)

Nathan prefers to "fold in the air" instead of on a hard surface… he agrees with one of his origami heroes who believes that you should fold animals in the air to offer them more life as they are being born, er… I  mean, folded into creation.

When Nathan is not folding intricate origami dragons, he has a ton of other interests and hobbies that he enjoys and was happy to chat about them as he folded away… He likes to play the piano and cello (he uses his foot to guide the bow) and to compose music for both instruments. He also appreciates fine arts of all kinds, and likes to draw and paint (water colors and oils) and also knit, weave and crochet.

And he swims.

And cooks.

Nathan is quite the renaissance man.

Giving life to a regal red Maekawa dragon.

Finished! A mere 45 mins ago, this was a floppy square of paper… a hundred or so folds later, a beautiful and sassy red dragon. Nathan was kind enough to pose with a dodecahedron that he folded not long ago. Then he graciously spelled it for me…very, very slowly.

To his credit, he didn't cringe one bit when I asked him to hold his big pretty paper ball. He seemed to understand that dodecahedron, isn't a word that often enters my everyday vocabulary.

Nathan has won several national awards for his efforts… Apparently, his self designed (and adorable) alpaca totally kicked boot-ay in the Origami USA competition…the really big deal origami organization of NYC.

 Here are the beginnings of a new origami design of a bird that Nathan is working on. Right now it resembles a complicated geometry problem…all decimals and angles, but soon it will be folded into a delicate and beautiful work of art. And quite likely, Nathan will fold it mostly in the air to give it life.

And it will be lovely.

And like it's designer, inspirational.

I feel better about our collective future knowing that kids like Nathan are working hard and using their gifts to create beautiful things from scientific origins. And even better that kids like Nathan will happily share their gifts with the rest of us. I asked him what advice he would give to someone like me who is frustrated by trying to fold even the most simple origami design.This was his advice to me…

"You will only learn with patience, practice and perseverance."

Well said Nathan, Thank you for the reminder.

Come see the regal red eastern Maekawa dragons in person at the International Adoption Center's Passport to Forever this Saturday, November 4th. Nathan and Calista plan to host a Folding for Good display at the event with some examples of their own designs. Here is the link for more information Passport to Forever 2012.


Maggie is a mother of six, three homegrown girls, two songs born in Guatemala and a little girl born in Ethiopia. She has been blogging since 2009 at To Infinity and Beyond.