paper cranes

Cathartic Crafts

Senbazuru at St. Lawrence

Henry Herbold '21

How does a square piece of patterned paper grow into a beautiful, long-legged, long-necked bird? It starts with a single fold.

The activity of creating origami cranes is called senbazuru. Japanese legend says that if a person folds 1,000 paper cranes they will be free of illness, which seems an appropriate activity given the continued risks of COVID-19 to our campus community.

The Senbazuru Project at St. Lawrence this past spring provided students managing the stress of the pandemic with a collective, therapeutic mental and tactile exercise of folding paper into cranes. Materials and instructions were provided by the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery and the cranes were placed in Owen D. Young Library to honor all students who have been quarantined there as a precaution throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

This semester has not been ideal for anyone, but efforts like this by the University made it seem a little bit more normal and went a long way for morale. I know this firsthand.

When St. Lawrence moved from Phase 1 to Phase 2, allowing some residential visits, I invited three of my family-unit friends over to partake in the senbazuru activity. It was a Tuesday night, and all of us had some homework to do, but we figured it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to take a break and do some origami. (Besides, making one paper crane only takes about three minutes!) Our first attempt took a little bit longer than expected, but we stuck with it.

One of us had made cranes before, two of us had not, and a third came over thinking we were making machine cranes. I told my friends the story of Sadako Sasaki, which the senbazuru Project honors. Sadako was a girl who tragically died from leukemia due to radiation poisoning after Hiroshima, her city, was bombed at the end of World War II. Sadako, with the help of her friends and family, folded hundreds of cranes during her final year, and the story of the community effort lives on, long after her death in 1955.

Now it was our turn. What started as just a square piece of blank paper, fold by fold, became a bird. (Note for those who would like to give it a shot: origami paper is a lot easier to fold than normal paper.) Folding with purpose was a much-needed change from the normal non-work COVID-19 activities (video games, Netflix, etc.).

The activity had been an eye-opener, and afterward, my friend Kendrew commented that “a crane a day will keep the doctor away.” While this sentiment has yet to be confirmed by medical experts, and it did make us pause to take a breath, and was a pandemic-friendly activity that pairs nicely with housemates and some good background music.

I learned that origami requires patience, and patience is something students have gotten better at this year. The cranes are at once a symbol for brighter days on the horizon and a reminder to keep folding.