Passion Discovered Amidst Valley and Mountain Folds
Three variations of spinners, folded by Knapp and designed by (left to right) Kyoko
Makahara and Taichiro Hasegawa, Makoto Yamaguchi
and Aso Reiko and Hasegawa.
May 12, 2011
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Illinois Wesleyan University alumna Kathy Knapp ’69, is proof
that education doesn’t end with graduation. Knapp, who graduated with a nursing degree
from IWU, worked as a nurse for Caterpillar Inc., and the State of Illinois Zeller
Zone, a mental health center, before discovering a new hobby that has now become her
profession and her passion.
While volunteering as a nurse in 1989 at the Art and Science Day Camp in the Woods
in rural Washburn, Ill., that her three children were attending, Knapp spent her free
time folding basic origami shapes that she had learned as a child. After prompting
from the camp director, Knapp began teaching simple folds to the campers, while continuing
to learn herself.
Today, nearly 25 years later, Knapp has mastered complex shapes and sophisticated
folds, owns over 500 origami books in various languages and attends origami conventions.
In 2007, she founded Origami Peoria Area, a monthly group for local folders to learn
from one another.
Knapp peaking out behind one of her designs, a modular of sonobe units, called an
For those unfamiliar with the art form, origami is the Japanese word for paper folding.
According to the British Origami Society website, the earliest known example of folding
was an Egyptian map made from papyrus, the early form of paper, in 1150 B.C. The Society
estimates that recreational paper folding probably began in Japan around 1600, with
solid evidence in the 17th century. Some of the first folds included the classic crane,
boxes, boats and hats. Since then, the Japanese art form has expanded to include almost
every shape imaginable.
Knapp also teaches origami classes at Illinois Central College, nursing homes, 4-H
Clover Clinics, and to Girl Scout and Cub Scout Troops and various women’s groups.
For her work, she was awarded the 2010 Ranana Benjamin Award by Origami USA, which
is given to an outstanding origami teacher, particularly of children.
“I teach to support my [origami] habit,” said Knapp. “And I teach because I just love
those ‘aha’ moments when someone just gets it. It’s rewarding to see people succeed.”
Knapp, who began learning the skill from how-to books from the library, understands
the difficulties of learning origami.
“Origami is not just a craft, it’s an art,” said Knapp. “It uses a lot of math and
has it’s own language, which anyone that folds understands.”
A gold saar star that Knapp folded from tissue foil.
Knapp begins her students with basic folds and simple bases such as triangles or squares.
For children, she almost always begins with the folding of a frog, which, when folded
correctly, can hop.
“I don’t like to teach from diagrams,” said Knapp. “I want the students to focus on
the step I’m on, and I don’t move on until everyone has the concept.”
With beginning level students, Knapp has been able to teach them how to make baskets,
drinking cups, French fries and fish. She has personally folded such challenging shapes
as a PHiZZ modular, which is shaped like a ball and composed of 60 units intertwined
like lattice work. This intricate design took her nearly four hours to complete.
She has also folded an origami peace tree, which she donated to a fundraising-event.
Contact: Jessica Hinterlong ‘11, (309) 556-3181
A diagram of a jumping frog, one of the beginning folds that Knapp teaches to her