On Sunday 29 November 2015 I had the chance to visit the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City to visit the 2015 OrigamiUSA Holiday Tree. This is a tradition dating back 43 years and has become one of the highlights of the festive season at the Museum and New York City itself. OrigamiUSA has a strong relationship with AMNH and holds folding sessions there throughout the year. The Holiday Tree is put up just before Thanksgiving, and is available for viewing until shortly after New Year.
Finding the Origami Holiday Tree
The first thing I noticed is that the tree is not easy to find! AMNH is absolutely vast and I did not find the map very easy to read. I had to ask for directions to the tree a couple of times and still managed to get lost after getting directions both times. In the end, I found it more out of luck than any coherent idea of where I was going. If you do want to go and see it, the Tree is in the Grand Gallery on the 1st Floor, near the exit onto 77th Street. Don’t be ashamed to ask directions – apparently, a lot of people have to! There is a map of AMNH showing the Grand Gallery on this page.
First Impressions of the Origami Christmas Tree
It’s a big tree – probably about thirteen or fourteen feet high. The Grand Gallery is a large imposing room and the OrigamiUSA Holiday Tree doesn’t feel out of place. Each year there is a theme for the tree, in 2015 that theme is Mighty to Microscopic Life.
The tree is well decorated – it is covered in models of origami animals of all shapes and sizes around that theme, and has mobiles made of silver origami stars hanging off it. OrigamiUSA does recycle the models year on year – apparently, there is a Pterosaur that is 40 years old – but as they are made of paper, some models don’t last. OrigamiUSA asks for new contributions to the Holiday Tree every year.
I loved the variety of models on the tree. Some of them were classics, such as Lafosse Butterflies. There were several of these, including some of the Alice Gray design, which is fitting as she was an entymolgist at AMNH and one of the original inspirations behind the Holiday Tree. Other models were well known and very complicated. There was at least one of Satoshi Kamiya’s Shark and Lion models, each of which must have taken somebody several hours to make. There were a couple of Hideo Komatsu’s owls. There were also other more unusual and imaginative designs that fitted the theme perfectly. These included a microbe, a length of DNA, a giant tooth with bacteria on it (accompanied by a toothbrush and paste), and some large red blood cells – complete with an origami microscope!
One model I didn’t see anywhere on the tree was a traditional crane. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there – there were a lot of models on the Holiday Tree. It was good to see it so well decorated with so much more interesting designs than just a crane. At the top of the tree was a star. It was difficult to see clearly because the tree was so tall and so well decorated, but it looked like a multi-piece model, comprised of several different modules.
It’s Worth Seeing!
I thought the Holiday Tree was wonderful and I am not surprised it is so popular. I would urge anyone that has the time and is in the area to go and take a look. If the tree inspires you to try and fold something, there is a range of origami books in the AMNH Museum Shop to suit all abilities.
Thank you to OrigamiUSA for such a delightful tree, to those people who contributed a model, and in particular to OrigamiUSA volunteers Ros Joyce, Talo Kawasaki, and Jennifer Hou who organised it.
For more information about OrigamiUSA and other activities run by the society, including conventions on both the East and West coasts of America, see the OrigamiUSA website. I highly recommend the convention – check out my review of an OrigamiUSA Convention. I also wrote about their Foldfest 2021 event.
For more information on the exhibitions, films and activities of the American Museum of Natural History, please see the AMNH website.
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