March 14th: Akira Yoshizawa & Osa Johnson

A new Google Doodle debuted today honoring Akira Yoshizawa, born March 14th, 1911, who is known as the grandfather of modern origami as an art form. At Speaking Up, I’ll be taking a closer look at Osa Johnson, an American adventurer of the early 20th century born March 14, 1894. As you can tell from the link, Osa Johnson’s work was undertaken in partnership with her husband, Martin Johnson, and the two share a Wikipedia page despite each having made individual contributions to documentary film-making.

If you have seen the Pixar film Up, the story of the Johnsons may be a bit familiar to you, as it inspired some of the background for that story. The Johnsons spent their careers as what can only be called “adventurers,” writing about, and filming, their travels in East and Central Africa, the South Pacific Islands, and North Borneo. After years of traveling, filming, writing, and traveling the United States sharing their adventures with audiences, the Johnsons got their pilot licenses in the early 1930s, which completely changed their approach (and the world’s approach) to documentary and to capturing, on film, the landscapes that their audiences would otherwise never be able to see. They became the first documentary filmmakers to film Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya from the air.

Sadly, Martin Johnson was killed in a commercial plane crash in 1937. Osa, however, continued their work, leading expeditions to Africa to film for future documentary work, authoring several books, and producing her own films.

Whenever a new Google Doodle is posted, I find myself in a bit of a rush to post to this blog, and quickly seek out women who share a birthday with that day’s honoree. Each time, it’s a difficult decision to choose just one woman to write more about, and I try to come up with a broad, diverse pool of women from different fields. Sometimes, there’s a specific reason I’ve chosen a particular honoree. This time around, that happened, but not because I had read very much about Osa Johnson in the past, or because she worked in a field similar to mine. The photo below is why I really felt like sharing more about Osa.

Osa Johnson with a gibbon in her airplane. Photo from George Eastman House Collection.

Osa Johnson with a gibbon in her airplane. Photo from George Eastman House Collection.

I have written a lot in the past about the importance of female role models for women in creative, innovative fields and in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). A role model can be a lot of things, from a well-known personal mentor to a public figure whose role can be emulated by younger people. Part of our struggle here at Speaking Up is that Google Doodles, and other initiatives like them, have the opportunity to make the world aware that women also have filled, and will continue to fill, roles that are world-changing and wonderful and worth emulating. But as a society, we rarely take full advantage of those opportunities. When I happened upon this photo this morning, I was struck, once again, by how simple awareness of someone’s amazing life and journey can feel like a personal connection and personal encouragement.

It’s hard to imagine a better portrayal of a role model than the look of sheer joy on Osa’s face in the photo above, peering out of her very own airplane (called Osa’s Ark). And I think it is important — for all of us — to see women who are completely and totally in love with their chosen professions. Today, we often tell our young students to follow their dreams, and that’s certainly something I heard a lot growing up. It’s wonderful to me to look at this photo of a time when traveling the world, flying her own plane, and having her films shown in movie theaters across the country would have been a dream that could have felt completely out-of-reach for a little girl from Kansas. When we tell kids to follow their dreams, I think this is the face we hope they will someday make.


One thought on “March 14th: Akira Yoshizawa & Osa Johnson

  1. Pingback: April 24th: Gideon Sundback (#10) & Yvonne Cagle « Speaking Up

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