Volume 12, Number 67, 2009

Best of Show
by Charalene Denton

There was a country fair in an isolated northern outpost. For a city in the middle of nowhere, fairs seemed so unlikely, but it occurred three years in a row. The fair had an origami category that looked intriguing. I had entered other categories and was finding it hard to get a first place. I am very competitive, so I wanted first place or best of show, but it was only happening in the baking division. I got best of show for beet jelly. It tastes like grape jelly and the award was a shock to receive. Having done it I figured getting one in origami would be no problem.

I went to the library and found a book on origami. Several had interesting objects I picked and I tried what I thought was the most complicated or outstanding project: a snowflake. I tried and tried. I could never make it look like a snowflake so I went to stars. I doubled the size and used two sets of paper. Yes, it worked and looked professional. I entered it in the Country Fair, and received no reward for my efforts. It turns out they were too big, it counted if you made them the size of your palm, not your face. Here bigger was not better.

Several years later when I had moved to a farm community an hour outside Alberta’s capital I was still interested in origami and especially snowflakes. It was a problem I had not resolved. While thinking about the situation I found inside a winter issue of “Martha Stewart Living” several snowflake cutouts. I decided it would be nice to have snowflakes on our front window for Christmas. Martha’s flakes were easy to make, but I wanted a variety of white wonders. I found them in a book of nothing but snowflake patterns. It was like a knitting book only with snowflakes instead of sweaters.

A circle of different snowflakes didn’t take long to make, but these flakes were the most painful of all the snowflake projects that I would do. The tips of my fingers remember the scissor’s sharpness, and my eyes remember the small red blood bubbles appearing on my skin, but never staining the white paper. I taped the flakes to the window where our short haired grey tabby cat did her vigilance.

The cat tree had three platforms. The middle shelf was the right height for filching white wonders off the window. She destroyed two and was headed for a third before I nabbed her. The seven pound smarty pants had been with us for over eight years. I had long ago stopped punishing her for her bad behaviour, or I would have put her and her tree by a mini window in the basement for the holidays. Instead I placed the tree far enough away from the window and her claws. There was never another missing flake, but I am sure it was not from lack of repeated efforts on the part of our smart feline.

There were, however, hundreds of small pieces of white paper on the floor when I made over two hundred of the same snowflake for a haiku hologram. The editor of The Haiku Canada Review asked members to make up one haiku (a seventeen syllable poem) two hundred times, and sign each for a special year end anthology. Out came the pattern book and a new flake. It had to be scaled down to fit the anthology box. Photocopiers work wonders when it comes to scaling down. I created a haiku and arranged in on the snowflake. It took about twenty tries before I could get started on the two hundred. The snowflake had a candle in the middle. Yes, I made mistakes, but watching the flakes add up gave me the energy to finish what I had started. It was heart-warming to see what others had created for someone they didn’t know. The anthology is one of my most treasured possessions, and it doesn’t hurt that a copy of it is now worth over sixty dollars.

The next time I made a snowflake it was even bigger and required a lot less cutting and lot more gluing. It wasn’t as complicated as the snowflake in the origami book. The first time I set eyes on this ivory wonder was at a local library. A teacher from one of the schools in the area had used it as a class project. The finished project hung in the library. I asked the library staff member about the giant flake and she was kind enough to give me the directions. It required eight pieces of letter size paper, the paper was folded, cut, twisted into a cone shape, then each cone was glued together to form a circle. It must have taken half a bottle of glue to put the eight by eight by eight by eight inch flake together. I sure wouldn’t want to be outside if this freak of nature fell. I placed it on a light fixture in the kitchen with a fat white twenty-four inch ribbon. It was a joy to look at during the holiday season.

I was proud of my accomplishment. When an art gallery I was a member of asked me to send a photo of my artwork for a special gift I took a photo of the giant flake and sent it to them. Several months later they sent me a business card using the paper snowflake. It was surrounded with a black border, and had my name and address below it. They gave me ten of them. I cried, “But this is not the kind of work I normally do as an artist.” My work is considered ugly art: American Gothic. How on earth was I going to give out business cards that so misrepresented my practice. I did and beamed with pride when I presented them. I kept one to remember the experience, and have considered different ideas for a new one, but have never had one as good as the elephant flake.

Next time I brought out the snowflake pattern book it was to create a memento for each member of my family. The mementos would connect me with those living thousands of miles away. I cut out one of a kind for each member of the family, one each for my two sisters, one for my brother, one for my son, then one of each in the same pattern for myself. I sent one with their Christmas cards, and hung the others up on the plant hangers on the ceiling in the living room. The sun coming in through the living room during the day was such a pleasant reminder of what I had done for the holidays. It was the jewel in the holiday crown.

What had started out as a motivator to achieve an end goal that was no easy task (making an origami snowflake with thirty-two separate steps the size of my palm) turned into making heartwarming gifts that put lasting memories in my mind as well as the minds of others. The projects and the results were better than the best of any show.