paper swans
Maya Stein of Creativity Caravan displays the 3,000 origami swans she competed making in July, to represent each child held in a detention center, separated from their parents. Adam Anik/ for Montclair Local

By Tina Pappas 
for Montclair Local

Maya Stein began making origami swans on June 20 to recognize every child separated from his or her parents seeking asylum at the border under the administration’s current zero tolerance immigration policy. Her swans number 3,000, equal to the number of children Health and Human Services reported had been separated.

The 3,000 swans make up the “Folds For Freedom” origami exhibit, currently being featured by the Montclair Public Library.

Stein is a writer first, artist second. She and her partner own The Creativity Caravan, which offers art and writing experiences in Montclair.

paper swans
Maya Stein began making origami swans on June 20 to recognize every child separated from his or her parents seeking asylum at the border under the administration’s current zero tolerance immigration policy. Her swans number 3,000, equal to the number of children Health and Human Services reported had been separated.
Courtesy Maya Stein

She began creating the origami swans this past June, fueled by the nation’s most recent controversial policy on immigration. She said her goal, which added up to about 33,000 folds, was to recognize every child being held at a detention center or foster homes after being separated from their parents after crossing into the U.S. Origami is the Japanese art of folding paper into shapes.

Each swan is numbered.

“Until the July 26 reunification of 1,800 families, the number of children held was 3,000, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar,” Stein said. But the Administration for Children and Families estimates that number could have been more like 11,800 children, and many still remain separated from their families.

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The exhibit is almost overwhelming its size and numbers. The swans are lined up in glass display cases, with some dangling from string and appear in flight, above the exhibit.

“I think it’s quite powerful to see the collection altogether, because I think it gives viewers a sense of the scale and magnitude of this issue, and also expresses it in individual, humanistic terms rather than the confusion and assault of political theater,” said Stein.

As much as each swan is exactly alike in size and angles, each one is also unique. The exhibit reflects a rainbow of colors.

“I did not want to forget that every person trying to enter this country for the sole purpose of saving the lives of their families is someone with hopes, dreams, ambitions and a fierce desire to protect the future of the children,” she said. “This is the part, in my mind, that gets lost over the immigration issue.”

By July 18, Stein completed 3,000 origami swans. The collection was shown that evening at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City as part of a fundraiser organized by artist Asha Ganpat to benefit Kids At The Border, an ActBlue campaign.

Stein wants others to share in her art and welcomes visitors to create their own swan to be part of the display. Next to a basket of colorful squares of paper, there is a how to tutorial with step-by-step instructions on folding a swan.

Peter Coyl, library director, said that the library is proud to display artwork from all members of the community.

“We hope that the artwork evokes conversation and education,” said Coyl.

The exhibit will be on display through September. Library patrons are invited to add more swans to the display.

paper swans
Stein invites library patrons to add more swans to the display at the Montclair Public Library. Adam Anik / for Montclair Local