He's only 13, but homeschooler Gabriel La Mont already is accomplished in the ancient Japanese art of origami and is teaching classes on it at the Ashland library.
Grinning with pride, Gabriel holds up an origami flyswatter with a man squashed on it, then Yoda, a bald eagle, a shark, the Starship Enterprise and a complex biplane. Each is made from one piece of paper, with no cuts or glue, following the rules of origami purists.
Folding paper may sound simple, but making the biplane required 151 steps and 15 pages in an instruction book.
Why the intense focus on paper-folding?
"It's good for spatial skills, hand-eye coordination and it develops the mind, kind of like chess," says Gabriel, who taught a class of 10 to 20 adults, then formed an origami club.
His club is called GOOFY, an acronym for Group of Ostentatious Origami Folders, Yeah!"
Gabriel started teaching origami when he was 8 and the family lived in Florida.
He also pursues the "pure creativity" bug into other areas, such as juggling, yoyo, basket weaving, unicycle and devil sticks (using two sticks to juggle objects).
"It's been really fun. He's a good kid, very cool and patient," says one of his students, Matt Medina of Medford, who was glad to find others who "are folding."
Gabriel's mom and home school teacher, Maritza La Mont, said she is proud of his work in standard academics, but takes special delight in her son's fascination with skills that seem to have no practical application for career and income.
"He's self-taught and has always had good attention to detail," she says. "He thrives in home schooling and can go full blast with it. He taught himself to embroider and knit, just picked it up from a book. In home schooling, there's plenty of space and freedom to explore and follow your passion without being restricted in time."
Wearing a peace crane hat he made, Gabriel shows off a model of a Flasher Supreme, which is a mind-bending array of triangular peaks and valleys, folded from equal size grids on one sheet of origami paper, then imposed with a spiral of folding that makes it look like a choppy sea.
Gabriel has begun inventing his own origami sculptures, the first being Siamese twin peace cranes — two cranes stuck together.
Origami and other arcane arts are pure creativity, says Gabriel, noting that "fun and creativity go together."
"Where there's fun, there's creativity and where there's creativity, there's fun."
His mother says origami and other skills might be useful to shaping a life in engineering, but sculpture would be just as likely.
"He's a Renaissance man, like da Vinci," she says. "He uses it to express himself. Art is such an essential part of life. If it's stifled and restrained, it's not healthy."
Asked what his career goals might be, Gabriel just smiled and said, "I don't have a clue. I just know this is helpful."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.