Patrick B's Origami Peacock

The following Article appeared in The Elberton Star and later the magazine Lake Living.

Blind artist proud of peacock
By Mark Berryman


Patrick Barden was born with degenerative eye problems.  He began wearing glasses at a very young age and his sight has been progressively getting worse throughout his 39 years. Patrick, being legally blind, cannot drive, but he still knows beauty when he sees it and he sees it in something as simple as a piece of paper. Since he was in elementary school, Patrick has practiced the ancient oriental artform known as origami. “One day a teacher gave me an origami kit and told me, ‘Here, play with this and see what you can come up with,” said Patrick. He did as he was asked, but “it was not pretty.” Even though his first attempt did not turn out as planned, he was hooked from that point on. Patrick learned to make a frog, his first successful project, a swan and a butterfly. For years those were the only things Patrick knew how to make. When he got into college, Patrick’s interest was once again peaked as he found himself needing something to do in his spare time. He would spend much of his free time in the dorm room practicing origami. This newfound enthusiasm for the hobby led to some popularity at school, but that popularity also almost got him into trouble.

One of the “new” items Patrick learned to make was a water bomb. He learned to fold the paper into a container which would hold water. After being filled with water, the water bomb could then be thrown at an unsuspecting target. “It wasn’t hard for them to figure it out,” said Patrick. “They found the water bomb and thought, ‘Who do we know who does origami?’” The path, of course, led to Patrick and his water-bomb-making career quickly ended. As time went on, Patrick’s desire to make bigger and better origami figures grew. His current project is a peacock. The peacock stands about 12 inches high and consists of about 1,300 small pieces of paper, each folded to a particular shape. Patrick began the undertaking with a pattern, but since the pattern only called for white paper, the artist decided to forgo the pattern and create his own using colored paper.  He chose colored paper found at Wal-Mart. He took about 140 sheets of the colored paper to church and borrowed their paper cutter. Using the paper cutter to cut 2-3 sheets of paper at a time, Patrick cut each sheet into 10 pieces until he had about 1,400 pieces of paper all the same size.  He took the small pieces of paper, carefully and meticulously folding each one into an individual shape which resembled feathers. The individual pieces were then glued to the main part of the sculpture. Yes, glued. “Lots of glue,” said Patrick and then he repeated it. “Lots of glue. Lots of Elmer’s,” he said as he smiled. As a testament to the amount of glue, a half-full bottle of Elmer’s Glue-All still sat on the coffee table nearby. The peacock’s colorful tail has an intricate pattern and the bird is adorned with colored pins and some beads. It took Patrick about 40 hours to finish the peacock.

While origami may seem like a safe and harmless project, there are hazards. The most notorious of hazards is a paper cut. Patrick wasn’t sure exactly how many paper cuts he had while folding and assembling his peacock, he did say, “I don’t think there is a finger that hasn’t been cut while doing it.”  Patrick has plans to enter the peacock in the fair this fall.  Patrick has also used his skills for a couple of weddings. On one occasion Patrick made cranes to sit atop each guest favor. “I folded 50-some-odd cranes,” said Patrick. For another wedding the artist folded birds and butterflies to be placed all around the room. Patrick said he is willing to do more weddings, but he does need time.  “This type of origami is called modular origami,” said Patrick. “Modular origami takes individually folded pieces and puts them together to form one piece. The word origami actually means ‘fold paper’. Ori means fold and gami is paper in Japanese.” Not all people are cut out for the hobby. “I think one of the main reasons people get frustrated is all of the prefolding,” he said. “Prefolding is where the artist makes folds or creases in the paper and then unfolds it. The creases will be needed later in the assembly, but it can become tedious. A particular stumbling block for Patrick is a rose. “I have never successfully completed a rose. It takes 40-50 prefolds,” he said and laughs as he finishes the line, “I’m not doing something right.” The art of origami dates back several thousand years and is not considered a child’s hobby in Japan. In the earlier days of the craft, it was practiced mostly by the aristocracy because paper was so expensive and most of the lower class did not have access to it.
While many of the practices and pieces date back to the early days, the high cost of the hobby has dropped sharply with the cost of paper. “I think the thing I like the most about it is it’s inexpensive,” said Patrick. “All you need is a piece of paper. You can even start with something as cheap as a piece of notebook paper.”   While many aspiring paper folders do start with a sheet of notebook paper, specialty papers are available for the craft. The paper ranges from pennies a sheet to over $15 per sheet.  Patrick has several books on the subject, some from Japan.  “It doesn’t matter if the instructions are in Japanese,” said Patrick, “As long as it has the diagrams, you can make it.”  One of his favorite subjects is boxes. He has learned to make boxes from a book by one of Japan’s best, Tomoko Fuse. Fuse’s specialty happens to be boxes. Patrick also likes to make ornaments. He will create a “box” type ornament with a bell encased inside. With his limited vision, Patrick was also excited to find out one of Japan’s most respected origami masters is blind. Saburo Kase is known around the world for his skill and craftsmanship.  His prized find this year is the 2007 Origami Fold-A-Day calendar. “I can’t wait for the new year to get here so I can start tearing off pages and folding,” said Patrick. Each day the page is torn off of the calendar and instructions show the folder how to create something new.  Patrick said he doesn’t really know where his will lead or what “big project” is next. He does know he wants to keep learning about the art of origami and would be willing to do demonstrations for group. He has already shown his craft to the youth group at church, but is willing to do the same for school groups or other church groups. Patrick may have limits when it comes to his sight, but he doesn’t let his limitations prevent him from seeing a bird or a frog or even a beautiful peacock in a simple piece of paper.

Comments or questions may be sent to wpb30635 AT elberton DOT net