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  • Writer's pictureShea Stanfield

Japanese Kimono Art Travels West

Flying high and “knowing no borders” is the foundation of artist Karen O'Hanlon's exquisitely constructed miniature Japanese Paper Kimonos. Karen grew up in the lush landscapes of California, where she remembers enjoying the process of making unique occasion gifts for family and friends. In 1972, after attending two years of college, Karen joined Western Airlines as a stewardess. Not long into her career, Western merged with Delta Airlines, which proved to be a life-changing opportunity for Karen. The merger allowed her to travel internationally with routes to Japan, where she gained new perspectives on Japanese culture and arts.

In Japan Karen studied traditional Japanese paper art, beginning with Japanese Paper Covered Eggs taught by Yoko Kimura, owner of Narita restaurant. Yoko introduced Karen to master paper artist Yuriko Kodama in 1995. The introduction proved to be a breakthrough in Karen’s inspired paper creations; she soon mastered the skill of constructing three-dimensional paper dolls, “Washi Ningyo.” It wasn't long before Yuriko Kodama offered Karen a set of cardboard pattern pieces for a kimono, made from a Japanese bus schedule. Yuriko's gift sparked a defining moment in Karen's focus in the Japanese art form.

"My folded paper art is not origami. Origami uses one piece of paper folded into objects. In contrast, the folded kimonos use 22 pieces of paper, precisely folded and meticulously fitted together."

Karen explains, "My folded paper art is not origami. Origami uses one piece of paper folded into objects. In contrast, the folded kimonos use 22 pieces of paper, precisely folded and meticulously fitted together." The "path to perfection," with this method, took Karen 5 years to master. In addition to her beautifully constructed paper kimonos, Karen has expanded her Japanese paper art by creating ginger jars. The technique is known as "Iris Folding," which originated in Holland. Karen uses approximately 40-50 folded strips of Japanese paper taped and glued into a pattern, thus creating a spiraling design that resembles the iris of an eye or camera lens. The completed assembly, displayed under glass and framed is an awe-inspiring experience.

Karen says, "I feel honored to have had the opportunity to study with Yuriko Kodama. There is only one other miniature kimono artist in the United States who has studied under this master." Karen's goal is to pass along the art of the Japanese Paper Kimono to ensure the art will live on for future generations. Karen works from her home studio in Gold Canyon, Arizona. She is a juried artist with the Sonoran Arts League and Scottsdale's Celebration of Fine Art.


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