Japanese paper 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.  She remembers enjoying the creative process of making special 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, putting into motion a life-changing event for Karen. 

The airline merger provided an opportunity 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.  Initially learning about the art of Japanese paper covered eggs from Narita restaurant owner, Yoko Kimura.  Yoko introduced her to master paper artist Yuriko Kodama in 1995. 

This introduction proved to be a breakthrough in Karen’s inspired paper creations and she soon mastered the skill of constructing three-dimensional paper dolls, “Washi Ningyo.”

The day came when Yuriko Kodama offered Karen a set of cardboard pattern pieces for a kimono, made from a Japanese bus schedule.  This was a defining moment in her focus in her Japanese art form.

Karen feels honored to have had the opportunity to study with Yuriko Kodama, and only one other miniature kimono artist in the United States has studied under this master. 

Karen explains her 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, exactly folded and meticulously fitted together. 

The “path to perfection,” with this method, 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 an awe-inspiring experience.

Karen works in her home studio.  This past summer she participated in the Bellevue Arts Museum Fair and Sausalito Art Festival.  She is a juried artist in Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour each November at artist Beth Zink’s studio in Cave Creek. 

This year Karen is celebrating her 10th year participating in the Celebration of Fine Art in Scottsdale open daily from now through March 14.  You won’t want to miss the opportunity to meet Karen and witness her creative process with Japanese papers.

Karen plans to pass along the art of the Japanese Paper Kimono so the art will live on for future generations.  

To view Karen O’Hanlon’s work visit her website at kpohanlonstudio.com, and she may also be contacted by phone at 480-982-6483.

You can contact Arts Columnist Shea Stanfield on her email at: flowingquill@yahoo.com.