Carolyn Woody learned the traditional art of origami from her grandmother while growing up in Hawaii. Origami was a part of family time, down time, and social time. “Our hands were always busy folding paper,” Carolyn said. “It was just something you did.” It didn’t matter the type of paper. They would use newspaper, wrapping paper, notebook paper, or any paper around the house.
For Carolyn and her family, origami was an integral part of everyday life. She fondly remembers the paper hats and boats that her father used to make. And the thousands of origami cranes folded by friends and relatives for special occasions, like birthdays and weddings.
Carolyn’s grandparents immigrated from Japan to Hawaii in the early 1920s to work on the sugar cane and pineapple plantations. They eventually saved enough to establish their own farm in Manoa Valley, growing gardenias and ginger flowers for leis, and fruits and vegetables that they sold in the local markets.
Carolyn grew up in Honolulu and she was fortunate to spend lots of time with her grandparents. They were deeply connected to Japanese culture and were very active in the community. She has fond memories of the summertime community picnics at Ala Moana Beach Park that were organized by the Japanese farmer associations. It was time for the farmers and their families to relax and socialize, while the children would compete in friendly games and races to win prizes.
Carolyn came to Oregon in 1974 to study biology at Reed College. She wasn’t aware of the Japanese community in Oregon at the time, but she would often do her shopping at the now closed Anzen Market which specialized in Japanese foods and reminded her of home and family.
Then at a street fair she discovered Portland Taiko, a group that performs with Japanese drums. She hadn’t seen much taiko drumming in Hawaii, except at a temple a few times. But Portland Taiko’s drumming was so much more artistic and powerful. She immediately was drawn to the organization and became an avid volunteer, later serving on the board of directors for several years.
“The drums get to me,” she said. “You can feel the power of the drums resonate throughout your body.”
Through Portland Taiko, Carolyn has been able to connect with others of Japanese ancestry (known as Nikkei) and various Japanese and Japanese American organizations in the area.
Carolyn also volunteers at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center which preserves and educates the public about the history and culture of Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest. The museum is located in Old Town, which was the center of Portland’s Japantown before World War II.
After a career where she went from biochemical research to sales to semiconductors and back to research again, she now focuses on her business, Lunarcat Studios.
Through Lunarcat Studios, Carolyn makes and sells a variety of origami items and other Asian-inspired crafts. Her eBay store also offers smashed pennies and other collectables. She will be at the Beaverton Night Markets on July 21 and August 11 and the Tigard Street Fair on September 8. She calls her signature origami ornament the MakiOrigami, which is composed of 18 modular units and can each take up to an hour to make each one.
But in line with her childhood experiences, she’s still always folding paper. It’s like knitting or crocheting to her. “I don’t even have to think about it,” she said.
Carolyn also teaches origami through Saturday Academy. Her lessons focus on the mathematical and spatial elements of origami, teaching pattern recognition and geometry to school-age children in Washington County and around the Portland area.
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