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Karen O’Hanlon: East meets west in kimono art

Shea Stanfield~ 8/6/2014

CAVE CREEK – Flying high and “knowing no boundaries” in her creativity is the foundation of artist Karen O’Hanlon’s exquisitely constructed miniature Kimonos. 

Karen grew up in the lush landscapes of California. She remembers always enjoying the creative process of making gifts for family and friends. In 1972, after attending two years of college, Karen joined Western Airlines as a flight attendant. Not long into her career with Western Airlines, they merged with Delta Airlines, a life-changing move for young Karen. The merger allowed her the opportunity to travel internationally. Her route took her to Japan, giving her a new direction for her artistic expressions.

In Japan, Karen studied traditional Japanese paper art. Initially, she learned the skill of making Japanese paper-covered eggs from a Narita restaurant owner, Yoko Kimura. Yoko introduced her to master paper artist Yuriko Kodama in 1995. This introduction proved to be a real breakthrough in Karen’s inspiration and creations. With sensei Yuriko, Karen mastered the skill of constructing three-dimensional paper dolls, “washi ningyo.” The day sensei Yuriko offered Karen cardboard pattern pieces, made from a Japanese bus schedule, for a kimono was a defining moment in Karen’s focus.

Karen explains that what she does is not origami. Origami uses one piece of paper folded into objects. In contrast, the folded kimonos use 22 pieces of paper, exactly folded and meticulously fitted together. The path to perfection of this art took Karen five years to master.

In addition to her beautifully constructed paper kimonos, Karen has expanded her use of Japanese papers by creating ginger jars. The technique is iris folding, which originated in Holland. She uses approximately 40-50 folded strips of Japanese paper, which are taped and glued into place over a pattern, creating a spiraling design that resembles the iris of an eye or camera lens. To see these pieces completed, under glass, and framed is truly an awe-inspiring experience.

Karen works in her home studio.  She is a juried artist for Carefree Fine Art and Wine Festival in the fall. She participates in the Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour each November at fellow artist Beth Zink’s studio in Cave Creek. In 2010, Karen was juried into the Celebration of Fine Art. She will be celebrating her sixth year, along with the Celebration’s 25th year of operation in 2015. While exhibiting in the Celebration of Fine Art, she is able to share the beauty of the Japanese papers and a bit of Japanese culture on a daily basis from Jan. 17 through March 29.

Karen feels honored and privileged to have been able to study the art of the kimono under sensei Yuriko Kodama.  As she expresses, there is only one other miniature kimono artist in the United States who studied under the master. Karen plans to pass along the art of the Japanese paper kimono so the art lives on for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. 

To see Karen O’Hanlon’s work, visit her Web site at  Karen can also be contacted by phone at (480) 982-6483 or email at  

To contact the arts columnist Shea Stanfield, email