Photos: Origami “Creatures of the Sea” adorn holiday tree at UH Hilo’s astronomy center

The tree follows a new theme being explored at ʻImiloa Astronomy Center: the intersection of paper folding and science.

Photos by Daniel Nathaniel.

Tree with origami ornaments.
ʻImiloa’s origami tree will be on display into January in the center’s atrium. Click photos to enlarge.

A unique holiday tree is now on display in the atrium of the ʻImiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaiʻi at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. The tree is decorated with nearly 100 origami ornaments designed around the theme, “Creatures of the Sea,” and folded by artists from several continents. A seven-foot lighted tree serves as a backdrop for colorful paper schools of fish, sea mammals, seaweed, sea shells, and even a diver in SCUBA gear.

Origami SCUBA diver surrounded by fish.
An origami SCUBA diver and fish adorn the holiday tree at ʻImiloa. Click photos to enlarge.

Origami is the art of paper folding, where flat sheets of paper are transformed into sculpture by folding and sculpting. The word origami is derived from the Japanese “ori” meaning “folding,” and “kami” meaning “paper.” Recently, ʻImiloa Astronomy Center has sponsored programs and workshops exploring scientific applications of origami—the Japanese art of paper folding can help scientists find and study Earth-like planets in the habitable zones of nearby stars, and maybe one day aid travel to one of these exoplanets.

“Exploring the intersections of paper folding and science has been an exciting new programming arena here at ʻImiloa, and we are happy that our origami holiday tree will continue this theme and give the community another reason to come in and visit,” says Kaʻiu Kimura, ʻImiloa’s executive director.

Group photo of 'Imiloa staff with holiday tree in background.
The staff at ʻImiloa Astronomy Center gathers in front of the holiday tree decorated in origami sea creatures. Click photos to enlarge.

The Holiday Tree

The folding of the tree ornaments was done in Hawaiʻi and across the continental United States, Europe, and South America. The artists are some of the leaders of the modern origami movement, including Michael LaFosse and Richard Alexander of Origamido in Massachusetts, and Sok Song of New York City.

Also swimming around ʻImiloa’s tree are yellow tangs, mahimahi, and mempachi; angel, angler, box, damsel, and butterfly fish; marlin, sharks and barracudas; sea horses, sea snails and crabs; moray eels, manta rays, a coelacanth, and an octopus family; a humpback whale and her calf; and even Hawaiʻi’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa.

The Kusudama star on the top of the tree was folded locally for ʻImiloa by Julien Lozi, senior optical scientist at Subaru Telescope, from a pattern designed by Ekaterina Lukasheva. Lozi’s work was displayed at ʻImiloa earlier this year as part of the highly acclaimed Epic Origami exhibit organized by Waimea-based artist Bonnie Cherni.

Origami school of fish encircle a coral head.
A school of fish encircle a coral head.

Most of the origami on the ʻImiloa tree were previously displayed on a holiday tree at the Japan Airlines check-in counter at Kona International Airport in 2009. That project was organized by a longtime JAL staff member with close connections to Origami USA, the educational and cultural arts organization which has created an attention-getting origami holiday tree at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City for over 40 years. At his invitation, origami artists folded and donated models for the JAL tree under the theme of “The Sea Around Us” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Hawaiʻi statehood.

Viewing hours

ʻImiloa’s origami tree will be on display into January in the center’s atrium at 600 ʻImiloa Place in Hilo, off Komohana and Nowelo Streets at the UH Hilo University Park of Science and Technology. The ʻImiloa Astronomy Center is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, visit the ʻImiloa website or call (808) 969-9703.

-Adapted from media release.

The photographer Daniel Nathaniel is a senior at UH Hilo majoring in linguistics on the GI Bill. Previously, he served nine years as superintendent of public affairs, 624th Regional Support Group at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Oʻahu. He currently is a photographer in the Office of the Chancellor.