Local gallery devoted to the art of origami to close

For owner and artist Alice Larson, the gallery is full of memories.

Island Paper Chase, a Vashon gallery specializing in origami art, will be forced to close at the end of August, said its owner, Alice Larson.

Larson, who not only owns the gallery but has created all of the delicate and colorful paper art inside of it, told The Beachcomber she had, without warning, recently been told by her landlord that he had “decided to accept a long term offer that includes purchasing the building in the future.”

Larson does not have a lease on the space.

According to property records, the building that houses both the gallery and its next door neighbor, VALISE Gallery, has been owned since 2018 by McConnell Real Estate LLC — a business affiliated with Mike McConnell, who owns several other properties on Vashon including O Sole Mio Pizzeria.

A representative of VALISE Gallery, housed in the same building, declined to comment on the matter.

For Larson, who believes her gallery is one of the few outside of Japan that solely shows origami art, the imminent closure is heartbreaking.

“This has truly been a visiting spot for all ages all cultures, from all locations,” she said. “I have had visitors from around the world.”

Larson said it has been her great pleasure to encourage budding origami enthusiasts at all levels, but especially children — informing parents that their kids’ obsession with origami was an indicator they would also be good at math, in a range of forms.

More than that, she had enjoyed experiencing how visitors seem to discover her shop.

“I get the biggest kick out of seeing people smile when they walk in the gallery because it is so whimsical, colorful and unexpected,” she said. “What better pleasure than doing art that makes people happy?”

But now, with only weeks to move all her delicate artwork, Larson is also worried.

She is especially concerned about finding a new home for a large work of art she started in 2021, called “Forest of Lost Souls,” which includes a hanging origami crane for each person who has died of COVID-19 in King County.

In June of 2021, when the artwork debuted, this number totaled 1,550. It has nearly doubled in a year’s time to more than 3,000 today. Gold cranes on the artwork represent the lives lost on Vashon.

Visitors have told Larson the work is both beautiful and sad, she said. It has remained on view at Island Paper Chase since its creation.

Larson says she is searching for a venue to house the artwork before she has to leave, preferably in a location where it can be seen by more people. She has reached out to various locations in the Seattle area, but with the short time frame she has been given, may need to simply find a place it can be safely stored.

Island Paper Chase opened in 2015, at another storefront in Vashon’s town core, and moved to its present location in 2016. For Larson, whose many customers include those walking by who are drawn in by the unusual nature of what they see, it has been a requirement to have the shop in Vashon’s main shopping corridor.

For Larson, the gallery is full of memories.

“I have a lot to say about this shop and how special people tell me it is,” she said, recounting the times those who come to the gallery have related their own stories of making origami for meaningful occasions or told her how their children were inspired by what they saw to begin folding origami.

“It is more than simply an art form,” she said, as origami principles are used in science, medicine and even nature. “I can’t imagine not going home every night and doing origami.”