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Arnold's world of paper flowers


Precisely rolled napkins turn into beautiful petals

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: ELLEN SPITALERI - Arnold World has been setting up his paper flower making hobby at Powells Books on West Burnside nearly every day for two years. He once made flowers for Mayor Charlie Hales and wife Nancy.It started as a hobby that got out of control, says Arnold Drake World, about making the pristinely white paper flowers that customers love to ooh and ah about at the cafe inside the downtown Powell’s Books.

World can be found carefully manipulating the sturdy white napkins he buys at the café nearly every day, but one thing he wants everyone to know — he does not sell the flowers. He never asks customers for money, instead preferring to give away the snowy blossoms, and then perhaps getting donations in return.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: ELLEN SPITALERI - A flower by Arnold World.Another thing he wants to make clear is that the flowers do not happen in a free-form way — they follow a careful mathematical formula called the Fibonacci Sequence.

The sequence, named after Italian mathematician Fibonacci, uses “a sequence of numbers that repeat throughout nature. (We) are hardwired to like art; the art reflects the numbers and the number reflect the art,” World says.

As he begins to roll carefully torn-off sections of the napkins to make the flowers, he writes down a formula for the order in which he constructs the flowers:

The No. 1 is the stem; number two is for the flower’s sun, or outer, leaves; three and four are for the supporting leaves; and number five is for the flower’s reproductive system.

These numbers reflect the flower’s actual structure in nature, he says.

Reading the crowd

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: ELLEN SPITALERI - Arnold World has written a book about his art, We Dont Fold, We Roll, and has a website, worldpaperflowers.com.The 50-something World has lived in Portland on and off for 11 years, coming to the city first to sell cars. He taught himself how to make the flowers about eight years ago, after realizing there was a market for paper flowers that don’t require scissors, glue or art paper. He estimates that he has been coming to Powell’s almost daily for two years, never wearing out his welcome, always buying a drink.

What has he learned in that time?

“Certain flowers draw certain people; I look at the customers in the café and figure out what I should be making,” World says.

Women, he asserts, like more linear flowers, like calla lilies, while men respond more to circular or rounded flowers, like roses. One day a lovely woman approached him to ask about the flowers and then asked if he would make one for her husband. “So I made one for Mayor Charlie Hales, and his wife (Nancy),” World says, noting that, of course, the mayor’s favorite flower was the rose.

World has been featured in stories in other newspapers and was interviewed for and filmed by Oregon Public Broadcasting, he says.

The three flowers that draw the most customers to his table at the café are the calla lilies, roses and morning glories.

He starts his day not having any flowers on the table, and then slowly starts making a calla lily or a rose, and soon customers come over to have a look. He hopes they go from “I like that to I want that,” World says.

To him, the solid white flowers are more attractive than colorful ones, noting that they “get more beautiful when they get older.”

World wears earphones and listens to a “full spectrum of music” as he makes the flowers, sometimes even following the music with his hands, as he rolls the paper into petals.

He also “uses hot air from my lungs that basically shapes the flowers, bringing the curl out when I blow on it.”


Sharing his gift is one of World’s specialties; he is happy to go into schools, libraries and retirement centers to teach others how to make the flowers.

He is most proud of teaching 45 kids to make 45 flowers in 45 minutes, he says.

A visit to World’s website, worldpaperflowers.com, introduces people to his techniques, and he also has written a book detailing how to make the flowers, called “We Don’t Fold, We Roll.”

“It is available everywhere online,” he says.

World says he likes giving the flowers to little kids, who then go and tell everyone about them.

He adds, “I do take contributions, and that gives people good karma points.”