Gold Canyon mixed media/paper artist Karen O’Hanlon is one of 199 artists participating in Arizona’s largest and longest-running artist studio tour, Hidden in the Hills. She is the designer of miniature Japanese kimonos created in the same detailed fashion as full-sized traditional robes. Each is unique, because the kimonos have the appearance of fabric, but they are actually paper. The high-quality papers are made by master craft artisans in Japan using traditional, as well as modern tools and techniques.

As a regular visitor to Japan during her career as an international flight attendant, she became fascinated with Japanese paper art.

“I was fortunate to meet and study traditional Japanese paper arts under a master sensei, Yuriko Kodama. At the time, she was 79 years old, and she taught her specialization of creating three dimensional dolls, known as washi ningo,” O’Hanlon said. “After having difficulty on my own, Sensei Kodama suggested I concentrate on the kimono. Perfection was the goal, and if the slightest error was made on the kimono, she would take that particular section apart.”

It took O’Hanlon five years to master the art of the paper kimono. The exquisite and unique kimonos are constructed using Kozo (mulberry paper), featuring popular designs from the Edo period (1600-1868).

“I use two types of kozo. One is chiyogami, which is decorated with brightly colored, woodblock-printed patterns. The other is yuzen, which includes patterns based on traditional silkscreen designs derived from the silks of the Japanese kimono,” she said.

These works of art are first constructed by making templates of varying sizes for each pattern piece of the kimono. Twenty-two pieces are cut, folded, layered, glued, and mounted in a shadowbox frame, under glass, with precision. Due to the delicacy of the paper, each piece is lined with additional paper.

O’Hanlon has expanded her use of Japanese paper by creating ginger jars. The technique is iris folding, which originated in Holland. She uses approximately 40 to 50 folded strips of Japanese paper taped and glued into place over a pattern creating a spiraling design resembling the iris of an eye or camera lens.

“I feel very privileged to have studied under a traditional Japanese artisan and proud to pass on a dying art. I have been constructing the kimonos for 25 years, and each one excites me to complete,” she said.

During Hidden in the Hills, O’Hanlon will exhibit her work at Beth Zink’s Studio #27 in Cave Creek.

Hidden in the Hills returns, for a 23rd consecutive year, during the last two weekends of November (Nov. 22-24 and Nov. 29-Dec. 1). A signature event of the non-profit Sonoran Arts League, the popular tour takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 47 private studios throughout the scenic Desert Foothills communities of North Scottsdale, Cave Creek and Carefree.

Art enthusiasts can find details about participating artists, custom-build their own map or download a map at For details, call 480-575-6624.


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