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As Big As It Goes: Origami Art

Short story about students' art

By Dalan HartmannPublished 7 years ago 3 min read
Top Story - October 2017

I slapped the giant piece of canvas onto the table, making half the class jump in surprise. It was early Wednesday morning, just a few weeks before summer vacation. Heat radiated off the blacktop of the basketball courts outside the art room. I couldn’t wait to start.

“So, I was standing in the Home Depot staring at this sheet of canvas lying on the shelf before me and the idea came into my mind immediately,” I said, hands on hips. Sculpture 101 stared back at me, eyes as glossy as glazed donuts.

“Whoa!” yelled a boy in the back. It was Aaron, the basketball star. “What you want us to do with that?”

I sighed, hoping that they would catch on. They hadn’t, which was typical for teenagers. I gave them clues: “It’s thicker than paper, big enough, and strong enough to fold in the proper ways.” I shook the canvas tarp.

“We’re gonna make that into origami?” Chrissy asked. She was snapping bubblegum over and over in rhythm to her tapping foot.

“Yes!” I grinned. We were a few weeks into our origami unit and the results lay littered over the room, tiny and intricate. Half the kids had already begun to hate it, the precision of folding the bends, the abstract idea of flat becoming 3-D, and the math — everything that I had once hated about origami, I had to try to convince these kids to enjoy.

“Outside! Let’s go!” I herded the twenty-something students outside onto the playground, who instantly shielded their eyes from the sun: We spent a lot of time indoors. I needed to change that.

One of the guys ripped open the plastic wrapping that protected it, a smell I recognized from memory wafted out. I recognized it as that of a sailing ship. As we spread out 500-square-feet of the canvas, I told them about it:

“When my aunt and uncle came back from the Caribbean, they couldn’t give up their sailboat, so they parked it in the middle of a big hay field outside their house. They’d put up the sails on days the wind didn’t blow too hard and we’d all go 'sailing.' They let the grasses grow so tall, it looked like we were out on a yellow ocean,” I said, laughing. “This canvas smells just like I’m back on that boat.”

“In Wisconsin?” One of the girls asked.

“In Wisconsin.” I nodded.

The canvas was laid out to cover nearly the entire basketball court. The students stood silent, a bit winded at the effort, in different positions around the cream-colored square.

“What we gonna make?” I asked.

The shouting began.

“Let’s make a turtle.”

“Lame!” Somebody snapped. “Let’s make a mermaid!”

“Cats! Origami cats are easy!”

“STOP IT!” I yelled, holding up my hands. “What do most of us know how to make?” They were silent for a moment, thinking hard, I hope.

“A horse.”

“That fish-thingy with the tail.”


We voted. The horse won.

We started to fold, making big butterfly wings that opened, then bent in an “L.” The struggle was flipping the entire thing open. Multiple people walked over the canvas to make a single fold; others made the crease by dragging their feet along the seam, great big muddy streaks left like shuffling penguin tracks. I wasn’t watching how long it took us. The bell rang. The canvas had become as large as a small car, the legs of the horse already standing, the head erect, the ears pinched down. I lifted from underneath the final fold, a tail, spiky and razor-sharp.

It was magnificent. It’s too bad we didn’t know it would rain that night.

high school

About the Creator

Dalan Hartmann

High school art teacher in Northern Wisconsin. Enjoys writing not to be heard but to let go of the little things!

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