If Araki could see her student all grown up, she would be proud. After spending the past several weeks creasing and folding, Rice -- who is half-Japanese and lived in Japan until he was thirteen -- created enough cranes to cover a Christmas tree. One thousand cranes, to be exact.
Balanced on top of a contemporary Chinese vase at Asiana Arts and held in place by 5-pound weights, the tree is decked out with a string of white Christmas lights and white paper cranes arranged in a graceful spiral wave, which Rice calls an akebono. "In Asian art, the akebono wave is symbolic," Rice explains. "It deals with everything from one end of the spectrum to another. It's a continual flow." (Akebono also happens to be the wrestling name of the first non-Japanese sumo champion -- a 512-pound man from Oahu, Hawaii, whose real name is Chad Rowan.)
Arranged under the tree like presents, more cranes -- fashioned from paper patterned with flowers, Japanese characters and geometric shapes -- rests on a red silk tree skirt.
The crane symbolizes peace and good luck. According to Japanese legend, a person who creates a sembazuru (1,000 cranes) during a single year will experience fortune and prosperity. Rice hopes to share the good fortune and prosperity of his sembazuru with young musicians. Each folded paper creation sells for a dollar, with proceeds benefiting the children's summer music camp put on by the Junior Women's Symphony Alliance during the Kansas City Symphony's New Frontier Music Festival, held annually to give kids a chance to develop their musical talents. Several local and international sponsors have agreed to match the funds raised by Rice's Sembazuru Project at Asiana Arts.
Rice has also folded hundreds of other paper creations in all shapes, sizes and colors, including kimonos, fans, cicadas and frogs. The tiny, folded kimonos look like the wardrobe staples of paper geisha dolls, and the fans are much too small to create even a slight breeze on a Kansas City summer day. A card explaining the history and significance of the sembazuru accompanies each piece.
Folding paper into repetitive patterns 1,000 times is a compulsive, fidgety person's dream. Like smoking, it can be habit-forming. "I'm a smoker," admits Rice, "and if I have five minutes to smoke a cigarette, I'm folding."
Each time someone buys one of his cranes, Rice will fold another to take its place, leaving the crane count constant. "From tomorrow on out, I'm folding every single day," Rice says -- though he is taking a day off to let a paper cut heal.