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Dragon Therapy

Climb the stairs to the tiny tower room at the top of the Loudoun House, home of the Lexington Art League, and step into Seth Fryman’s world. Dragons of all sizes and colors and patterns float through the air, lit by the sunlight streaming in through the large windows that line the walls of this miniature space. The exhibit, entitled Dragon Therapy (Art Therapy as Language), is a love letter to Lexington written in origami by a young man living with autism.

Seth Fryman, Dragon Therapy (Art Therapy as Language), Installation view, Loudoun House tower. Photo Credit: Art Shechet

Seventeen-year-old Seth Fryman found origami when he was very young. His father, Ben, a sculptor and special effects makeup artist, tells us, “It all started at an antique shop. He spotted a sixties-era origami book on the shelf – it was in really bad shape – and the woman just gave it to him. He was between four and five years old. He was obsessed with the book, and it took him about 12 months to master the basic folding patterns. He’s been fluent in 40-80 different patterns since he was about 6 years old.”

Ben elaborates, “When he was really young – as young as 2 – he was absorbed with patterns and puzzles. It became almost meditative for him. A lot of times autistic children will have a time in their day where they need to be alone and depressurize through stimulus and movement in their body, or through pattern or repetition that soothes or calms them. Through experimentation with different things, origami fit that better than anything else for Seth.”

Origami, though, isn’t just a form of relaxation for Seth. Verbally, Seth is most comfortable with quick interactions or texting. For that reason, as Ben tells it, his work has become a way for him to communicate with the rest of the world.

He says, “A lot of his communication comes through the joy people have. They ask ‘can you make a dinosaur, can you make an egg, can you make a horse?’ and he can produce them quickly. He likes the recognition he gets for being able to do that for people. Seth will take a pocket of his origami with him and show what he makes to strangers, and it’s his way to communicate.”

Seth’s first gallery exhibit, Dragon Therapy (Art Therapy as Language), came together by chance. In the early days of the pandemic, Lexington Art League staff were looking for ways to engage with the public virtually, creating coloring sheets and posting tutorials of simple art projects we could all do at home. An origami tutorial turned out to be very popular, and it sparked an idea.

Lori Houlihan, Executive Director, says, “A voice in my head told me to ask the community to do a 1000 Dragon Challenge, based on the traditional Japanese legend that anyone who folds 1,000 cranes will be blessed with happiness and luck. Dragons embody strength, and once it became obvious that we’d need more than a few weeks of coloring pages, and would need strength and resilience for a while, we really settled into it more aggressively.”

She continues, “Seth saw our tutorial and was already a prolific origami artist, so he was excited to jump right in. We met Seth when he brought a box of about 140 dragons to us. They were dragons of every size and made from all types of paper. The following week he came back with another full box. When I sat down and started stringing Seth’s dragons together for display, the idea came to me to see if he’d like to have his own exhibit of dragons in the tower.”

The exhibit consists of dragons displayed in a number of ways. Framed collections and mobiles make up a large portion of the work, while a few of Seth’s larger dragons are displayed independently. The most striking pieces are those that Seth refers to as “jellyfish.” Each jellyfish is a combination of multiple dragons made from similarly colored papers hanging from a dome-shaped object, and are reminiscent of the tentacles of a jellyfish.

Seth Fryman, Dragon Jellyfish (grey), 2021. Paper, string, mixed media. Photo Credit: Art Shechet

“Seth has had an interest in mobiles and installations for a while, and he loves anything that defies gravity, whether it be something that flies or something that swims. The mobiles are collections of pieces that he fabricates into a main installation or grouping to create the final piece,” explains Ben.

The exhibit also includes a large egg filled with dragons that Seth wants visitors to take home in exchange for leaving him a note.

Seth Fryman, The Giving Egg, 2021. Paper, mixed media. Photo Credit: Art Shechet

The magical, fluid nature of Seth’s combination of dragons and jellyfish – flying and swimming – is perfectly juxtaposed with a second origami exhibit by artist Daniel Moore, which is also on display.

The main body of The Origami of Daniel Moore is a collection of intricate geometrical pieces – including many stars – constructed from multiple complementary papers. Perfect for displaying on a shelf or for hanging, Daniel’s work is grounded in symmetry and geometry, and is both a contrast and a perfect pairing for Seth’s more fluid work.

Daniel Moore, The Origami of Daniel Moore, Installation view. Photo Credit: Art Shechet

Lori says, “Daniel also came to us because of the online tutorials. He stopped by with a box of his work to show us, and I knew it would be perfect to show alongside Seth’s collection.”

Daniel Moore, Various Kusadama, Large, 2021. Photo Credit: Art Shechet

Seth comes from a family of artists and musicians and creators, and Ben knows that has been a major influence on Seth’s life and artistic development. Experiencing art in his everyday life has been a great benefit to him, and allows for his family to visualize a future for him that incorporates art.

Says Ben, “We’re at the point where we are thinking about how to take his skills and put them toward ways for him to sustain himself in the future. We are establishing a website and Instagram page, and are continuing to come up with ideas of how he can create installations for future gallery showings and places that are interested in selling his work.”

Seth is also going to keep honing his origami skills and exploring other paper arts. In the meantime, he’s very excited for local residents to experience his work.

“He’s very excited about having his own exhibit,” says Ben, “and expresses that on a daily basis. Very rarely do you see Seth that he’s not smiling. That’s all that matters to me.”

Top Image: Dragon Therapy (Art Therapy as Language), Detail view. Photo Credit to Jo Mackby

Dragon Therapy (Art Therapy as Language) will remain installed at the Lexington Art League’s Loudoun House at 209 Castlewood Drive in Lexington for an undetermined period of time. The Origami of Daniel Moore is on exhibit thru April 24th.

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