Nov 2, 2011

REVIEW | Beyond Paper Folding | Ellen Noël Art Museum | Odessa, Texas

Beyond Paper Folding, Joan Son, 2011

West Texas is not the contemporary art hub by any means, but when I went home for the weekend I thought it wouldn’t hurt to stop by one of our local museums. I was actually impressed with the exhibits that had been on display at the Ellen Noël art museum. Usually the shows featured in the museums of my hometown and surrounding areas feature artists and work that parallel with our climate or our geography. It was refreshing to not look at photos of the desert landscape of tumbleweeds and oil rigs or New Mexican indian crafts. The Ellen Noël was featuring origami and while paper isn’t too thrilling, I couldn’t have been more excited.

"Eat," Joan Son, 2011
Out of the corner of my eye I caught several little paper items that seemed tacked to one of the exhibit walls. The closer I got, I realized that they were butterflies, life size butterflies folded perfectly out of paper. I almost expected them to fly off the wall if I clapped loud enough, but the closer I got (there were no museum guards, West Texas y’all) I could see the folds and angles of paper. Next to the butterflies was an American Flag hanging vertically. It wasn’t just any old Wal-Mart flag though, it was made out of pieces, again I got as close as I could and the “pieces” were cranes. Red, white and blue cranes suspended to form an American flag. Not my choice of arrangements, but the crafting was admirable just the same. To the opposite side of the butterflies is the next piece that caught my attention,  “Eat,” an arrangement of origami strawberries, blueberries and cherry stems. The Japanese imported paper contributes the naturalistic effect of the fruit, although it is apparent that the fruit isn’t fresh from the garden. I think I most appreciated the detail of the berries and the thought and time placed into the tedious work of preparing the fruit. The bowls and mat and random vegetables aside the fruit finish the setting wonderfully. The other works displayed by the artist were more geometric and simple in nature. Two of the works were women’s wear, a kimono and dress. The dress was form figured while the kimono was only two dimensional. Neither of the two pieces were my favorites,  because I find more interest in the folding aspects of origami and the two latter pieces mentioned were not folded in any particular way. The paper selection was gorgeous, but there was nothing special about their arrangement to me. The only drama I experienced from the kimono was it’s size as it hangs from an eleven foot wall. Not until I did more research on Joan Son, the artist herself, did I find more appreciation for her different types of art.

I look for harmony, balance, for the stream of clear thought that grounds me and connects me to a greater flow. My work is about making visual the pulse I see in the paper and feel in my core. That I find magic in the manipulation of paper, that others might glimpse the Source through my eyes -- this is my wish, my pleasure and my plan.

The above quote helps explain some of Joan Son's more simplistic works such as the ladies' wear featured at the Ellen Noël. “Lady Bird’s Garden Gown” is a simple life size dress made with flap like squares of paper placed on an intricate hanger. The paper garment was visually appealing, but I wasn’t too intrigued by it. Though I do admire her ethic in finding peace and meditation in her work. I appreciate the more intricate details when it comes to Son’s work and work like hers. Son’s other works have been large and more popular in nature, including “1,000 Cranes” and her work featured in the windows of Tiffany & Co. jewelers in Houston, Texas. Her one thousand crane collection began in the 1960s when Son was in high school. The collection was a witness to her wedding and is now a part of a residential home as are many of her other works. Son also has an installment in the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. The children folded the butterflies and the artist then configured them.

"1,000 Butterflies," Joan Son, Texas Children's Hospital

While I did enjoy partaking in the exhibit of Son’s work, there seemed to be no special arrangement of the show. The pieces displayed on the wall were the most intriguing and the cases limited the work, but of course were necessary to their preservation. The work also flowed well around the room, there were no cases or presentations in the center, everything was along the perimeter. The space was easy to move around in and was almost meditative. Joan Son’s work was visually appealing and easy to enjoy. I appreciated the the other aspects of her installations and work with organizations, though I found to respect her work more thoroughly through research than the actual exhibit. She also does origami classes privately and for large groups. Overall the show was a good experience- not to mention, I was happily surprised to find new art in the hot and dry abyss of West Texas.

-Amelia Navarro


  1. It's amazing to see the origami hanging art because it makes up a cute shape and figures. Very entertaining. Thank you for posting!