Origami Artist Roy Abo: Generous Master of Time and Patience

ISI 142 - Origami Artist Roy Abo


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Roy Abo, 92, hopes his origami umbrellas are listed in the Guinness World Records one day. He has made thousands of them—4,654 to be exact. To keep track of how many he has made, he writes his current tally on a piece of paper.

“I’d like to make 5,000,” said the retired farmer who lives west of Paul in southeastern Idaho.

He began making the sturdy, 5-inch-diameter umbrellas in 1967 as a hobby. Making the umbrellas has kept his fingers nimble and his mind active.

“I just need a few more years. I’m pretty sure I’ll live to be at least 95. My brothers and sisters all lived into their mid- to late-90s. My brother, George, is 95.”

Abo hopes his paper-cutting and folding feat is fit to be listed in the Guinness World Records.

“I went to the library in Rupert to see if any origami records were listed. There weren’t any, just a short explanation of what it is.”

Origami is the Japanese art of cutting and folding paper to make decorative shapes and figures.

Abo, who retired at age 62 after raising grain, beets, beans, and potatoes, said making each origami umbrella “is relaxing and gives me something to do when I watch TV in the evenings. It takes me about four hours to make one.”

A lot of people appreciate his umbrellas. Several years ago, he went to a Japanese festival in Boise and had his own booth, so he could showcase the art of origami.

“I sold 40 umbrellas in less than three hours,” he said.

He learned how to make the umbrellas—and also lanterns—from his brother, Isamu, who lived in Denver, Colo., and loaned Roy a book about the centuries-old craft.

“He sent me the instructions and materials for my first one,” said Abo.

To start an umbrella, Abo settles into his favorite chair with his materials and tools on a tray at his side.

“I don’t need much, just small scissors, pliers, tweezers, wire, paper, toothpicks, and these patterns.”

Using triangular-shaped patterns, he cuts pieces from cigarette wrappers, placemats, or brochures. He moves the pattern on the paper slightly with each cut, resulting in an umbrella having color variations. The umbrella staves are made from oriental toothpicks, and the stem handles are made from chopsticks.

“Depending on the thickness of the paper, it takes 50, 60, or 72 pieces of the same paper. I need more if the paper is thin.”

Once Abo had mastered making umbrellas, his niece traveled from Denver to his home, so she, too, could learn to make them.

“Anyone can do it,” he said. “It just takes time and patience.”

His wife, Trudy, also read the book Isamu sent and decided to make an origami lantern.

“She was a seamstress and really good with her hands,” said Abo.

The lanterns take twice as long to make as the umbrellas, about eight hours instead of four. “I’ve made 500 lanterns,” he said.

Before Trudy passed away, she and Abo had a professional portrait photograph taken of them. Their photo hangs in the living room near a showcase filled with Abo’s umbrellas. From her smiling portrait, she seems to be pleased with other examples of origami in the room.

Fish dangle from a ceiling light and fan. Whenever Abo flips on the fan, a breeze flows and the fish seem to swim. Colorful flowers in a bouquet were made from plastic beverage holders.

“My brother made the flowers and fish.”

Considering Abo’s generosity, it might take longer than he anticipates for him to reach his goal of 5,000 umbrellas.

“I like to give them away as gifts,” he said, smiling. “I’ve given away about 3,300 umbrellas. If I know about people having a meeting or reunion, I’ll donate some as gifts. I can always make more.” ISI

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