Sam Randlett has become an almost mythical figure in the world of origami over the years.  Born in 1930 he wrote The Art of Origami at the age of 30. His first wife Jean illustrated the book and (in 1963) the other half of this classic pair, The Best of Origami.

Apart from these two seminal books, Randlett’s most significant contribution to origami was a collaboration with  Robert Harbin to produce a comprehensive system of symbols and terminology (including the preliminary fold, waterbomb base, blintz base, fish base, bird base and frog base) which are still the de-facto set today. These were used in his books (which every serious paper-folder should have in their collection, IMHO) and in almost all Wstern books since then. He edited the origami newsletter called The Flapping Bird from 1969 to 1976, but since then has kept a remarkably low profile in the ori-world.

I’ve had a couple of brief (written) encounters with him over the years, asking for permission to publish his work. He once sent me an unpublished Jack Skillman design for use in a BOS convention pack (“Table salt” in the Autumn 1986 collection). He explained that he’d found this model in Skillman’s apartment shortly after his death. This wouldn’t mean much to today’s young turks, but I was seriously impressed – it was like a window into the early days of origami.

Biographical detail is hard to find, but it appears Sam still teaches piano (music being the other love of his life). There’s a fascinating article written by Jean-Claude Lejeune.

Here’s a list of his published models extracted from the wonderful origami database.

African Mask Art of Origami
Angel fish Art of Origami
Binary star Flapping Bird
Blintz Birdbase Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Blue Whale Art of Origami
Boston Terrier Art of Origami
Brontosaurus Art of Origami
Bull Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Bull mask Flapping Bird
Butterfly Art of Origami
Caliz Pajarita 50
Camel Art of Origami
Card Flapping Bird
Chalice BOS Magazine 81 April 1980
Christmas Ornaments Art of Origami
Dachsund Art of Origami
Dog Variation Art of Origami
Dove FOCA Origami Convention 1982
Duck Art of Origami
Fish Teach Yourself Origami
Flapping Bird Origami in Action
Flower Art of Origami
Golden Eagle Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Goldfish Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Goldfish – veil tail Flapping Bird
Goose Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Grasshopper Art of Origami
Green Pepper Art of Origami
Hooded Cobra Art of Origami
Knot Bat Art of Origami
Leaf Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Longhorn Bull Art of Origami
Moth Art of Origami
Mouse Art of Origami
Necktie Folding Money II
New Flapping Bird Art of Origami
Ornament Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Owl and the Pussycat Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Parrot Art of Origami
Pelican Art of Origami
Pheasant Art of Origami
Polar Bear Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Polar bear Cub Art of Origami
Presentation Box Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Purse Flapping Bird
Rabbit Art of Origami
Rabbit with cottontail Art of Origami
Randlett’s flapping bird Story-gami
Red Pepper Art of Origami
Reversible Fish Art of Origami
Rooster Art of Origami
Sea Turtle Art of Origami
Shorthorn Bull Art of Origami
Shrimp Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Small Bill Folding Money II
Snapping Wolf Art of Origami
Song Bird Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Springer Spaniel Art of Origami
Star Complete Notebooks of Neal Elias
Stegosaurus Art of Origami
Trojan Horse Art of Origami
Turtle Art of Origami
Vampire Bat Art of Origami
Veil-Tailed Goldfish Paper #086
Waterbomb Art of Origami

10 Responses

  1. I recently picked up a hardback copy of Randlett’s The Best of Origami: New Models By Contemporary Folders for a song, which has been great fun. Many great models, nice commentary by Randlett, and an intro by Martin Gardner. Highly recommended if one can snag a copy at a reasonable price.

  2. These books were the serious launchpad for my obsession with origami. I was limited to a couple of “kids” books (the Shari Lewis/Lillian Oppenheimer books and Maying Soong’s book), and felt frustrated. I asked my librarian (I was around ten or eleven at the time) whether there were more books available, and she asked me “did you try the adult section?”
    *blink blink* there was an ADULT section?
    This epiphany led me to BOTH Randlett books as well as James Sakoda’s “Modern Origami”.
    The rest, they say, is history.

  3. This reminds me of when I spend a few days with Sam and Thelma in Milwaukee back in 1980 ( a trip where I met amongst others, Alice Grey, Lillian Oppenheimer, Michael Shall, David Shall and Trish Troy Truit). Sam showed me his collection of books (hard to miss as they were piled 3 feet high all over he house), the fat ladies in Milwaukee Zoo(!), played ravels concerto for the left hand, and I went to a birthday party with Fancy the clown ( Thelma’s alter ego!). We also paid host to Thelma for a few days when she visited the UK a few months before she sadly died.

    Great memories!

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