Fred Bryant, the owner of Accents by Fred on Madison Street, has been “making stuff” since he was a kid.
When he got out of the Navy in 1962 he spent a year in San Francisco where he “played around with the flower people for awhile.” He made rings out of old spoons and did a lot of work with macramé. In the 1970s he taught himself to be a photographer and made a good living taking baby pictures. When he retired from American Airlines in 2001 he was making glass beads at home.
The owner of Accents by Fred is the kind of person who can learn to do something by just reading a book or watching someone else do it.
“I learned to knit by watching my mother and grandmother,” Bryant said. “I went to a couple classes on origami and sculpture, but basically I learned it on my own.”
Bryant – who has made a living as a chef, teacher, salesman, manager, real estate agent, photographer and jet airplane mechanic – never thought of himself as an artist. “I just made stuff,” he said.
That may be, but selling that stuff he makes has turned into a successful business for Bryant and gained him a national reputation for origami jewelry made from silver. For those who don’t have his natural aptitude, Bryant is offering monthly classes on the ancient Japanese art of paper folding, called origami. The first class was Sunday.
Bryant and his wife, Ann Hanson, had models of an origami crane, a lotus box and a triangle on a table. Participants could choose which one they wanted to make.
Mary Jule Daly, who lives in River Forest, said she saw an ad for the workshop and thought she could recapture a skill she once possessed.
“I did origami years ago, and thought it would be fun to come to the class,” Daly said. “The crane I’m folding is not perfect, but they’re fun to make.”
At first, it was Hanson who was more interested in origami than Bryant. He would tag along with her to an annual origami conference in New York, and not one to sit and watch TV, he decided to participate in a few workshops that were being offered.
The following year, during another conference class, Bryant wondered if the silver sheets out of which he had been fashioning jewelry could be folded like paper. He tried it, it worked and the next year he was actually able to sell some of his silver origami jewelry at the conference. That led conference organizers to ask him to show samples of his work in the exhibit hall the next year.
“I sold my silver origami jewelry at the convention again this year,” Bryant said. “I now have a reputation. I believe I’m the only one in the country folding silver right now.”
Some people do origami for spiritual reasons. For example, the queen of Thailand asked the citizens of her country to fold 100,000 paper peace cranes three years ago when violence between Muslim separatists and Buddhists erupted in the southern part of the country. Hundreds of sacks of the cranes were loaded onto military transport planes from which they literally rained down upon the troubled area in an attempt to extinguish the fires of discontent.
Bryant said he experiences origami more as a stress reliever and just a fun thing to do. Children, he said, really enjoy folding paper, and it helps the elderly keep their minds sharp.
To people who don’t know how to fold paper cranes, there is a sort of mystery to the whole process. “How did you do that?” is a question Bryant said eh hears often. What is nice about origami, he said, is there is almost immediate gratification. There is some initial fumbling but within a few minutes a recognizable object appears.
“It’s something like cooking,” Bryant explained. “You learn how to make a recipe, and you get the immediate reward of tasting what you have made. But then the next time you make it, you might change it a little to suit your own taste or make it a little better. The same is true with origami. You learn how to fold an animal or a geometric shape, but then you modify it and create your own model.”
Bryant has moved away from folding silver and gone back to making paper origami jewelry, which he coats with polyurethane to make it durable. He occasionally wears a tiny paper crane as an earring.
At 70 years old Bryant said he is motivated by the joy, not the profits, of teaching classes and keeping his store open.
“But every year I’ve been here our sales have increased,” Bryant said. “We have a unique store, because my wife and I make everything we sell.”
And with that, he pointed to an organ sitting next to the cash register. Only recently he has been teaching himself to play.
“I don’t want to play in a band, I just want to be able to sit down and enjoy it,” Bryant said.