The Pop-ups Are Coming! The Pop-ups Are Coming!
by Ellen G.K. Rubin
Read on Collectors and you shall hear
Of the MBS Conference in the 16th year
Of the 21st Century, in Boston town.
Not one of us wore a scowl or a frown.
We’ll remember this Conclave with broadening smiles,
Glad that we traversed the many miles.
It was as if Beantown had rolled out the red carpet for the members of the Movable Book Society, September 15-17, 2016 held at the Boston Park Plaza hotel. For the first time, another bibliophilic society would be joining us in celebrating pop-up and movable books and paper. The Ticknor Society, led by president, Marie Oedel, had spread their influence around New England, insuring that important institutions culled their movable books and mounted exhibitions, both physical and virtual, and organized tours of their collections. With MBS’ program chock-a-block with activities, thanks to Program Director Shawn Sheehy, 2 ½ days would never suffice.
President Ann Montanaro Staples and I arrived on Tuesday before the conference. We only managed to visit Harvard’s Houghton Library where a small exhibit, Moveable Books Before Pop-ups, spanned from a 1474 Regiomantanus to a 1794 Humphry Repton. Taking the T, Boston’s railway, we arrived at the Horticultural Hall where the William Morris Hunt Library is housed, to see a smorgasbord of artist books.
Marie Oedel proved to be the most gracious of hosts throughout the conference but especially at the Wednesday night dinner for both Societies’ Boards. In her 1871 brownstone, we especially enjoyed the Maxfield Parrish-like murals atop the wood-paneled walls. Her studio—she is a book conservator—was filled with pop-up books. Ticknor board members showed a genuine interest in our bookish niche especially when Uncle Larry [Seidman] pulled out his show-and-tell and Wowed! a new audience.
Shawn and Ann began Thursday evening by welcoming us all. We were reminded that this was our 11th conference and by a show of hands, many of us had been to them all. There was a last-minute change to our schedule triggering Shawn’s remark, “Why organize well in advance when I can do it one hour?” Matthew Reinhart was a no-show. I felt fortunate not to be one who had schlepped his weighty Game of Thrones for signing.
Shawn’s Plan B turned out to be a big hit, an “Open Mic.” It started with Marie Oedel welcoming us to Boston. She told us the Ticknor Society is one of the youngest book societies in the US, begun in 2002, and related a brief history of George Ticknor [1791-1871], a noted Boston bibliophile.
Marie Oedel Maike
Marie was followed by Maike Biederstadt from Germany who had walked the floor in high heels and had never left her rolling bag behind. She said her “comfort shoes” were inside but I never saw her wear them. Maike has been very busy since I met her Berlin where she was shopping around an erotic pop-up book, which, alas, never found a publisher. She did find success at the Museum of Modern Art for whom she designed a snowflake pop-up greeting card. The Greeting Card Association had bestowed upon it the coveted 2016 Louie Award. Like reaching into the ocean depths, Maike brought from her bag Creatures of the Deep. With an artist book quality—she admits she is “very picky”— Maike had enlivened with pop-ups the illustrations of Ernst Haeckel [1834-1919], a German biologist and naturalist. The book, in English and German and published by Prestel, is available in November. Pre-order it and support the work of this up-and-coming paper engineer.
MBS Board member, Monika Brandrup, introduced herself by giving us an overview of her life in publishing. A graduate of RISD, she passed through the obligatory starving-artist phase having held a plethora of menial jobs while focusing on her oil painting. She accepted a position at Structural Graphics bent on securing steady pay. At that time the company owned Pop Shots and Monika found herself the creative director. Clearly the job was a good fit, and she has maintained high standards in the field. She has also brought into her fold several paper engineers met at MBS conferences. “I love my job!” How can she not when her goal is to create products that make one smile.
Monika Brandrup Shelby Arnold
Renee Jablow described the huge paper sculptures—150 of them that guests took home—she created for the opening of the Broad Museum in Los Angeles. When asked about the pet enclosure, Pop-up Playland, she had talked about in Philadelphia, Renee hoped one day it would find an audience.
Shelby Arnold, who has worked with Robert Sabuda for 11 years, spoke of their collaborative venture, with Simon Arizpe, The Armchair Detective Co. offered on Indiegogo.com, a Kickstarter-like site. It consists of a puzzle locked within a puzzle necessitating one to solve one to advance to the next. Neal Patrick Harris was so taken with it, he immediately tweeted a response. The venture was well funded.
They say ‘stick-to-it-tiveness’ pays off. Rosston Meyer is a living example. Junko Mizuno’s Triad is Meyer’s third from Popposition Press, privately produced in a standard edition and a 100-copy special one with a laser-etched slipcase and a signed poster. “Nothing can get crazier than this work,” Rosston explained. He didn’t use Kickstarter as he had with previous publications.
Rosston Meyer & Simon Arizpe
Are you getting that Kickstarter or crowd-funding is the new model of pop-up publishing? In Philadelphia, Simon Arizpe showed us his flexagon story, The Wild. The Kickstarter campaign was quite successful and hexi-flexagons are already on the boat from Thailand. I’m hoping we’ll see more of these mathematical means of storytelling. Simon has also turned a 1000-year-old Iranian story, Zahhak: The Legend of the Serpent King, into a beautifully drawn pop-up book to be sold by Fantagraphics Press. We were not allowed to take photos of another up-coming book based on the film, The Babadook, released on Netflix in 2003. In his own words, “it’s a twisted book.” Simon demonstrated the subtle pop-up where a neck is broken. Yikes!
Yoojin Kim, who came to a previous conference as a student and left as an employee of Up With Paper, is working on a bespoke wedding pop-up book covering a couple’s love story. There are 10 spreads and only 3 copies will be produced. Yoojin was asked if she’ll be doing one on divorce? Such kidders.
Yoojin Kim & Roz Fink
We ended the Open Mic segment with Roz Fink who spoke of her promotional talks about pop-ups. She likes to take her “show on the road,” and expose people to the ins and outs of the genre.
Afterward, the Board met for a late-night session talking about succession, the next conference, the declining membership, and all we need to do to address these concerns.
When Olli Johnson from Minneapolis took the podium on Friday morning, I was reminded of Isabel Uriah’s caffeine-driven talk in Philadelphia. Olli began with a peppy video outlining her creative process. Well! George Lucas has nothing on Olli! Calling herself an “interactive puppeteer,” Olli inserted herself into Sabuda’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the Queen’s deck of cards and wore Dr. Seuss’ hat! We first met Olli and her accordion in Philadelphia. There was an immediate bonding with Sally Blakemore. Two peas in a pod if they’re ever was one. Compelled by “making things move,” Olli learned how to make automata and paper engineering mechanisms. In her effort to make her puppet show, Moonstruck, into a pop-up book, she learned and taught herself what she needed to know.
These new found ideas propelled Olli to the Minnesota Center for Book Arts [MCBA] where she was mentored in the art of pop-up book making. Next, she spent some time at the Penland School of Crafts where she met Shawn Sheehy. Her final production was a pop-up book, “Possibilitarians Almanac,” based on an old farmers’ almanac about planting, growing, and preserving. We found on our tables that morning “calling cards” from the book. Throwing back her long braids, Olli told us she now teaches at MCBA as well as a camp for kids in what she calls, Adventures in Cardboard. She gushes she “has found an art she will never get bored with.”
Next, the panel of librarians moderated by Darin Murphy of the Fine Arts Library at Tufts University would discuss collection development. The first to speak was Rachel Resnick of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, a publicly funded college of visual and applied art, founded in 1873. Rachel actively acquires, to the best of her small budget, $1000/year, artist books. MCAD is a “poor scrappy school.” Many of the books are by local women. While artist books “are not a focus, they are part of the curriculum,” especially on social issues. Among the acquisitions are Bataille’s ABC3D, One Red Dot, and a splurge, a book by Julie Chen.
In direct contrast to Rachel is Stanley Cushing, a conservator at Boston’s Athenaeum. More formally dressed with jacket and tie, Cushing has a budget of—gulp!—$150,000. [We know that thanks to Dorothy Berman’s direct question.] The Athenaeum has 300 endowed book funds starting in 1807. For over 30 years, he has met with artists or their reps. He admits he has the money for high quality books, is not tied to any institution, and buys with student visitors in mind. Fortunate man, he “buys what he likes” and “usually gets first dibs.” We were drooling at the expanse of his ability to acquire.
Included in the Athenaeum’s purchases are the books by Laura Davidson, another panelist. Laura uses the libraries for both information and inspiration, singling out the illuminated manuscripts that are now on display in three institutions in Boston. Besides her tunnel books in my collection, Ann and I saw other examples at the William Morris Hunt library. Her suggestion for research came down to “When in doubt, ask a librarian.”
Before very recently becoming the head librarian at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], Lareese Hall was at the art library at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. Her mission is to “provide access to knowledge.” She found the artist books at MIT drawing upon multiple disciplines and has written about artist book enclosures. Lareese spoke with great passion, not at all using a librarian’s quiet inside voice.
I love to watch the TV program, Shark Tank, to witness the inventiveness of imaginative minds. Picture how excited I was to have two entrepreneurs, Wombi Rose and John Wise, appear with the product, pop-up cards. The Sharks were also excited and Kevin O’Leary, aka Mr.Wonderful, funded Lovepops. Wombi Rose, dressed in ‘millennial casual’ with a red sweatshirt, long hair, and sneakers, was our next speaker and stood behind a table filled with the sliceform kirigami cards. Rose and Wise were naval architects who designed boats. They had traveled to Vietnam and had seen these pop-up cards. When brought home and put into the hands of friends and relatives, the duo experienced what so many of us call, “The Wow! Effect.” People loved them. Harvard Business School had honed their business acumen, and they set out to create the cards.
Wombi showed us with blueprints how it wasn’t a stretch from designing ships to designing the cards. “The $7 billion greeting card industry hasn’t changed.” Their approach to manufacturing is quite different from what we know about making pop-up books and probably contributes to their success. Their Vietnamese facility employs 120 people. Starting with an 80-card test batch, the design is chosen the day before. The cards have no text. After hand assembly, they are flown to the United States allowing for inventory to be kept low. There are 5 Boston kiosks selling Lovepops and a new one is coming to the Oculus at Ground Zero in NYC soon. The greatest demand for designs is for weddings—there were 1800 requests for wedding pop-ups after the Shark Tank appearance—and he showed us a custom card. He asked us “to not crash this wedding.”
We also got a crash course in Loveology, a set of internal rules from which there is no deviation.
- V-fold pop-up on centerline
- Ship fold-for big sculptures
- Rocket fold-set at an angle
They are always thinking about new ways to make the cards pop and will consider making custom cards. As of now there are 200 designs but see having 500 by year-end. Wishlists are generated from kiosk requests and Lovepops maintains a ‘secret website’ to test new designs. The cards are produced in batches of 288 and there is an 8-day turn-around. There is no text printing involved. One dollar from every card is donated to Haymarket for Hope, devoted to finding a cure for cancer.
Philip Weimerskirch looks every bit the part of a retired librarian, conservatively dressed and passionate about books, especially two movable ones by Leonhard Thurneisser [1530-1596]. He was determined to show us their workings via video but the technology got the better of him. Thurneisser [or Thurneysser] was a polymathic scamp run out of town for paying a debt with a brick painted to look like gold. Often referred to as a charlatan, he self-published 67 books on astrology, anatomy, alchemy, and various almanacs, Philip delighted us with stories of Thurneisser’s exploits including being called to examine Queen Elizabeth I’s urine. Thurneisser even had a glass factory to make his amulets and medicine for travelers with 200 people employed. The volvelles in his books are quite spectacular with as much as 51 parts fully rotational! Philip showed images of Peter Apianus’ Astronomicum Caesareum , considered the most beautiful movable book ever printed, and related that Owen Gingerich, the Harvard astrophysicist—who had been our keynote speaker at our New York conference—said that Thurneisser’s volvelles “out-dazzled” that book. Philip also highly recommended reading articles on movables by Suzanne Karr Schmidt. She has written extensively on volvelles and movable paper. The talk ended with a video of movable books prepared by Duke University.
Phillip Weimerskirch and Thurneisser's volvelle book.
Additional information and related websites at the end of the article.