“Basic Geometry”: How This Central Florida Army Veteran Became a Self-Taught Origami Artist

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Rodriquez Benjamin, 40, spent six years in the U.S. Army, including two tours in Iraq – the first for 15 months and the second for 14 months.

Benjamin said he joined the army so he could help his family; At the time, his grandfather was being treated for cancer and he needed a steady paycheck.

His official job was that of a Joint Fire Support Specialist – or, in layman's terms, forward observer.

“I would find, track and monitor targets,” Benjamin said. “My job was to not only get the coordinates, but also to send those coordinates to the artillery, the naval ships that are in the area, or any jets.”

Not only has Benjamin served his country in a war zone, he is also a skilled origami artist who estimates he has folded hundreds of thousands of paper creations.

Rodriquez Benjamin, 40, spent 6 years in the U.S. Army. (Copyright 2024 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.)

He owes his introduction to ancient art to media specialists at South Daytona Elementary School who noticed his love of folding paper airplanes.

Benjamin said Ms. Sperber always became attentive when he looked at books on drawing or folding paper airplanes. When a new book arrived, she turned to Benjamin and asked him if he wanted to try something different. She gave him his first origami book and he hasn't stopped folding since.

That media specialist, 76-year-old Carol Sperber, is now retired, but she and fellow media specialist Charlotte Hogan clearly left their mark on Benjamin.

“That’s what teaching was all about, making a connection,” Sperber said.

Sperber also taught 3rd, 5th and 6th grades and worked as a media specialist. She said she takes pride in making her students feel important to themselves and helping them discover their love of books.

“This stuff is heavy, but it's cool because you take a regular piece of paper and make something out of it,” Benjamin said at the time. “Either a flower. Some kind of animal. I'm like, 'This is actually pretty cool, this is something new.'”

From then on, whenever a new book on this topic came into the library, Benjamin got the first pick, thanks to the media specialists who noticed his love for the art of paper folding.

The books and these librarians made such an impression that years later he bought the same books himself, hoping to pass the hobby on to his daughter.

Benjamin said he never stopped folding.

He said teachers in high school thought he might have some form of ADHD.

“Something in my body needs to keep moving,” Benjamin said. “I just can’t sit still.”

Even during class, Benjamin would curl up while listening to the teacher or professor during a lesson.

“One of my teachers literally said to my other teachers, 'If you see him folding, make him fold.' He is still alert. He just has to keep going.'”

Christina Katsolis, a museum technician at the Southeast Museum of Photography, came up with the idea of ​​inviting Benjamin to lead an origami workshop for veterans and their family members at the museum – which also happens to be located on Daytona State College's main campus.

Benjamin works as a postal worker and courier in the Business Services department on campus, which keeps him constantly on the move – just right for someone who can't sit still.

Katsolis often finds himself in the office where Benjamin works and has noticed the many origami artworks that sit on his desk.

“On the occasions that I stopped by Rod and visited him at his desk, he was surrounded by a remarkable number of origami creations, from traditional shapes to winged unicorns, dragons, jet planes, mosaics, etc. You name it , it’s him “It probably worked,” Katsolis said.

Rodriquez Banjamin's desk at Daytona State College (Copyright 2024 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.)

Katsolis said the idea for the origami workshop was inspired by an exhibit at the museum called “Fact/Fiction: Constructed Images,” which features the work of visual artist Andrew Sovjani.

The exhibition showcases Sovjani's “evolving practice and allows for comparisons between three different bodies of work: Whitewashed, Paper White and Fabrication of Space,” according to the museum's description.

“Fact/Fiction: Constructed Images” features the work of visual artist Andrew Sovjani at the Southeast Center of Photography. (Southeastern Center for Photography.)

The free, two-hour workshop was led by Benjamin on March 9 and was part of the museum's “Art in Action: Veterans Explore the Visual Arts” program.

Katsolis is the program director of Art in Action, which focuses on engaging veterans to explore art through visual arts.

“Art is more than just a mirror and a means of self-discovery. It is also a healing force that powerfully connects us and conveys our shared experiences through expressive lines, colors and shapes. Art brings us closer. It inspires compassion, empathy and change. It speaks to us on a level where words often fail,” says the Art in Action website.

“I literally enjoyed the class, it was great,” Benjamin said. “We just started and learned some of the basic things. The most important origami starting points for many shapes.”

Rodriquez Benjamin leads an origami workshop for veterans at Daytona State College. (Copyright 2024 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.)
Rodriquez Benjamin leads an origami workshop for veterans at Daytona State College. (Copyright 2024 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.)

Benjamin said it was an honor to lead the workshop for his fellow brothers and sisters.

“It helps focus the mind. You never know what a veteran is going through,” Benjamin said.

Copyright 2024 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.

Anna Harden

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