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Aart van Breda

Updated: 19 hours ago

One of the references in my last post on the Paper Ladder and Paper Tree was the Dutch book Plezier met papier (1950) by Aart van Breda. I got hold of the English edition a while ago but had not really studied it in much depth. The same is true of van Breda's Paper Folding and Modelling (1965), which is one of the classic vintage origami books in English. For some reason the author doesn't seem to get much of a mention in the annals of origami history, so I thought it would be nice to try and find out a bit more about him and his work.

With a bit of online searching and a certain amount of good fortune I managed to find secondhand copies of most of van Breda's books, including both editions of Het grote vouwboek (1955 and 1963). As far as I know, the only people outside of the Netherlands who seem to know anything about these are David Mitchell (see the links at the end of this post) and Joan Sallas, who posted details of the contents on Laura Rozenberg's paperfolding history forum. Which is a shame, because they really are wonderful and fantastically illustrated books that must have been a great inspiration for many children when they came out.

So I'll start by recounting a few bits of information gleaned online and then give a quick run-down of the books I've been able to find. The dates are in most cases the dates of first publication, though a few are probably from later printings (it's not always clear from the books themselves).

Aart van Breda (1913–1972) was a Dutch artist, author and illustrator who ran a small publishing company with his wife Catharina van Breda-de Vries (1912–1992), focussing mainly on children's books translated by them from English. One of the first of these, which proved to be an important influence on him, was a translation of Maying Soong's The Art of Chinese Paper Folding (1948) into Dutch under the title of Chinees vouwboek (1949).

The Art of Chinese Paper Folding (1948)

Chinees vouwboek (1949)

Paper craft books

Van Breda's Plezier met Papier (1950) and Avonturen met Papier (1952) describe a variety of paper toys made mostly by cutting, with only minimal folding. Both were translated into English and German, and at least Plezier met Papier also appeared in a Spanish edition. The Dutch originals have an unusual format (15 x 30 cm), meaning that they don't fit well on the bookshelf with any of the other van Breda books, which are literally all in different shapes and sizes.

Plezier met papier (1950)

Pleasure with Paper (1954/1979)

Freude mit Papier (1960)

Papel y Fantasia (1990)

Avonturen met papier (1952)

Adventures with Paper (1955)

Abenteuer mit Papier (1960)

After these came the Kinderspeelboek (1954). The original Dutch edition has eluded me, though I did manage to find the English version Children's Playbook (1955), translated by W.E. James. It's mostly about things to cut out and stick together, but it also describes two folded hats and two folded boats. One of the boats, which I don't recall seeing anywhere else, is like half of the traditional Japanese Sampan.

Children's Playbook (1955)

The fact that many of the people who bought the Children's Playbook probably cut it up to make some or all of the projects might explain why it's not very easy to find on the secondhand market.

Het grote vouwboek (1955 and 1963)

In the origami world van Breda is mainly known for Het grote vouwboek (1955) ("The Big Book of Folding"), published in the same format as Plezier met Papier and Avonturen met Papier. The revised and enlarged second edition appeared in 1963 in a more reasonable though still unusual 16 x 22 cm format, and was translated into English as Paper Folding and Modelling (1965), as well as into German as Kempers großes Papierfaltbuch (1965) and Spanish (published in Argentina) as Origami: el arte del papel plegado (1972).

Het grote vouwboek (1955) (1st edition) (15 x 30 cm)

Het grote vouwboek (1963) (2nd edition) (16 x 22 cm)

Paper Folding and Modelling (1965/1976)

Kempers großes Papierfaltbuch (1965)

Origami: el arte del papel plegado (1972)

Grondregels voor origami (1993) by Aart van Breda and Elsje van der Ploeg

In 1995 a new edition of Het grote vouwboek appeared containing the complete contents of original book together with additional material by Elsje van der Ploeg. It was produced as a tribute to Aart van Breda in an attempt to revive his work for a new generation of Dutch folders. One important addition is a postscript obtained by Elsje from van Breda's wife Catharina, entitled Een lange weg naar modern origami ("A long road to modern origami"), which gives some valuable background information about the history of the original book. I only know about ten words of Dutch, but thanks to the wonders of Google Translate I am pleased to be able to present the following summary:

Inspired by fond memories of the boats and planes he used to fold as a child, Aart van Breda published a Dutch translation of Maying Soong’s The Art of Chinese Paper Folding under the title Chinees Vouwboek in 1949. Although it was well received by teachers, he was disappointed that it was not more popular as a family book. As a reaction to this he wrote Plezier met Papier, Avonturen met Papier and Kinderspeelboek, as well as a series entitled Knipsels en Vouwsels van een Krant ("Newspaper Cutting and Folding") for a national newspaper. Gradually he became focused on pure paperfolding, which he found more interesting because of its simplicity and the three-dimensional results which it made possible. In 1955 van Breda published Het grote vouwbook, his first work devoted entirely to paperfolding, which brought together all that was known to him at the time: traditional European folds, some designs from Maying Soong's book, and his own folds.


As it so happened, in the same week in which Het grote vouwbook was published, an exhibition entitled Japanners vouwen Papier (The Japanese Fold Paper) opened at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Van Breda saw how the ancient art of origami had progressed in Japan and was being rediscovered all around the world by people like himself. He decided that his recently published book needed to be revised, but because of other projects the new version of Het grote vouwboek did not appear until 1963. It now had the structure he had wanted, with classical designs from the Western and Eastern folding traditions accompanied by a number of his own folds. The book was well received by both children and adults and was translated into English and German.


I must admit that when I first got the English edition of Paper Folding and Modelling years ago I didn't pay a great deal of attention to it, because back then I was much more interested in all the latest complex origami models. And even when Elsje van der Ploeg kindly presented me with a copy of Grondregels voor origami I didn't realise its significance. It's clear to me now though that Aart van Breda was an important pioneer of Western origami, who deserves to be better known.

Sources and acknowledgements

As already mentioned, my main source of information for all this was Grondregels voor origami, with some additional biographical details from a University of Amsterdam website

For more on the books mentioned here, including in some cases details of the contents, see David Mitchell's Public Paperfolding History Project:

The Art of Chinese Paper Folding by Maying Soong (1948)

Het Grote Vouwboek by Aart van Breda (1955)

Het Grote Vouwboek (Revised Edition) by Aart van Breda (1963)

Paper Folding and Modelling by Aart van Breda (1965)

Kempers großes Papierfaltbuch by Aart van Breda (1965)

Pleasure with Paper by Aart van Breda (1954)

Adventures with Paper by Aart van Breda (1955)

The famous "Lister's List" collection by David Lister doesn't seem to say a lot about Aart van Breda, but it does have nice articles on Maying Soong's book and also the 1955 Yoshizawa exhibition in Holland:


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