MBS Meets in NYC '00
by Ellen G.K. Rubin
(reprinted from Movable Stationery, November 2000; vol.8, no.4)
The cliché, ‘Time marches on.’ rings so true and it’s miraculous how soon a date one never thought would arrive, does. It’s been two years since the last Movable Book Society convention and almost three since the inception of the exhibition, Brooklyn Pops Up! The History and Art of the Movable Book. Tuesday’s opening of the exhibition (see photos) seemed to be a great success (despite my not having other openings to compare it to). Robert Sabuda, Ann Montanaro and I (the curators) were smiling proudly the whole time. The best surprise was the appearance of Ken Wilson-Max who just showed up from London, an angel with dreadlocks. Now it’s time to loosen up a little and welcome the people who were our target audience for the exhibition, members of the Movable Book Society. I was so euphoric but so intent on my role in all of this, Dear Diary, that I apologize in advance for any omissions I commit.
6:00PM Thursday, September 21, 2000 (the Warwick Hotel/New York City)
People are slow to arrive but the air is instantly convivial. Like a big family everyone immediately falls into old patterns with the "Show ‘n’ Tell" coming out and the opening lines, ‘Did you see the pop-up book with……….?’ Of course, Andy Baron, now with Paula patiently in the wings, is spreading out his amazing books, this time Percy’s Park, a panorama with multiple movables. We are Wowed! A small group of us keep talking and sharing news until the waiters have remade every table but ours. It’s late. Unable to break up, we reconvene in Lin Sasman’s room. Feeling like The Three Bears walking in on Goldilocks, Lin’s roommate, Laura Hopeman, is already in bed but regally holds court from her ‘throne’. More ‘Show ‘n’ Tell. We can’t seem to help ourselves.
9:00 AM Friday, September 22,
This is our first full day and despite sleepy, jet-lagged eyes, we are ready to begin. Coffee will not be served until the first break at 10 o’clock and there is a minor frantic search for it. Not to worry. This is the Big Apple and the City provides. Sitting in the waiting area is Carla Dijs poring over….. book contracts? One could pick her out of the crowd as the European artist she is with her black, thick-rimmed glasses beneath black spiky hair. She might have made the short walk to the hotel from the Art Students’ League on West 57th Street. Kees (pronounced, case) Moerbeek, her husband, is not yet in evidence. The U.S. is well represented with conventioneers (no we weren’t wearing funny hats!) from Washington, San Diego, Santa Fe, Detroit, and Connecticut. Ann Montanaro calls us to order, warmly welcomes us, and turns the program over to Roy Dicks, who had graciously agreed to put together the convention’s program. Roy, with his friendly but no-nonsense approach, is determined to stick to the time-line of the program and introduces Adie Peña to discuss his collection of pop-ups with a musical theme. Those of us who have met Adie before know of his extensive collection lovingly housed in what he calls, The Museo Mobiblio. His slide show, he announces, will be "Collector Friendly", meaning he will make us drool but will also provide buckets. He speaks of his love of music, hence, his partiality to pop-ups with musical themes. S. Louis Giraud and Kubašta, he points out, were generous with their musical attributions. Adie’s movables range from a Schubert Piano business card from 1892 to a flip book of Bart Simpson with a CD. No category of music is left without a pop-up memento. Broadway is represented by Irving Berlin’s pop-up program from "The Music Box Revue" (1922), "The Phantom of the Opera Pop-up Book" (1988), and even Joel Camel, now banished, makes a cameo appearance in a print ad for Ticketron with tickets to Broadway shows. Jazz has a press kit for "Left of Cool" and a 1965 Gerry Mulligan album with a pop-up record jacket. Rock is embodied in Van der Meer’s, "Rock Pack" and Led Zeppelin’s "Stairway to Heaven" (1992) and an ‘Elvis is King’ souvenir card from 1983 engineered by Ib Penick.
Music lends itself to multi-media and Adie’s collection boasts record jackets and CD cases with pulsating lights, clocks, thumb handcuffs (!!?), and shapes- a coffin (Megadeath’s "Rest in Peace") and police badge (Police). There is no question this all is just the tip of the iceberg. Adie also touched on a Hallmark series and many Disney titles both with records inside. ‘Collector Friendly’ my foot!!!!
10:00AM Our First Break
With a cup of coffee waking me up, I plunge into the crowds of happy collectors. Little did I know I would come face-to-face with The Enemy. Several people had put their e-mail addresses on their name tags, the sight of which gave me a chill. Here I was meeting the dreaded "Sudspoth", "Pherley", and MariaPW, those pirates who plunder my treasures off Ebay. I had imagined these ‘blackhearts’ with smirking faces and multiple hands sporting rapidly moving fingers, not to mention dollar signs swirling in beady eyes. But, no, here they were as genuinely friendly and eager to meet each other as long-time pen-pals. I so wanted to spend time together to swap tales of woe or of glories and gain. But, alas, I was called away and lost the opportunity. What a great ‘reunion’ it would have been. I hope the chance presents itself again.
I was very eager to meet Kees Moerbeek who had come all the way from the Netherlands. Looking lean, youthful and prematurely gray (too many glue points?), I was anxious to hear from the paper engineer whose interpretation of Pienkowski’s Haunted House had sexual innuendoes. Kees gave us a window into how he makes pop-up books using his new Spooky Scrapbook as an example. Scrapbook is filled with pull-outs, gatefolds and flaps. So much so, it took him three months just to get everything to fit into the book. He sees the pop-up book as ‘organized chaos’ and looks to introduce the ‘unexpected’ into his works. Scrapbook is about a birthday party for a vampire child. What may account for its comfortable reality are the costumes he found in a 19th century book of fashion, the pattern for the china coming from his parents’ "good dishes", and the use of actual dead flies which were scanned into the computer. With slides, he walked us through his initial pencil drawings which he then moves to the computer, adding color. All the artwork then can be put onto CDs easing his work with foreign publishers and printers. Kees always makes 3D models crediting the computer with his ability to easily make more dummies. Working on as many as three projects as once, all of them ‘dimensional’, Kees avows to only make books he likes. When no ideas are forthcoming, he looks to his childhood, especially birthdays, where there was excitement and surprise. He credits his earliest influence to a single-spread Cinderella he saw when he was 4 years old. Now, with Carla Dijs as an able partner, Kees maintains he still learns by doing. The new Christmas book he shared with us showed he continues to learn well.
As is usually the case at an MBS convention, I am so excited I can hardly eat. At our table, discussing the state of paper engineering, Kate Sterling credits The Elements of Pop-ups by David Carter with giving us a ‘language’. Bruce Foster shares with us his necessary "destruction" of Moerbeek’s books in order to learn from them and the inspiration Hot Pursuit was in his professional life. With Biruta Hansen, we probed the differences between Japanese origami and pop-ups. These two paper engineers put it elegantly. Bruce sees pop-ups as European fountains with the energy being forced to make the water go up; Biruta says origami allows the folds to happen without energy (or glue) like naturally falling water.
I am more refreshed, and none too soon since we will now hear of the manic and prolific work of Andy Baron. Andy remains the ‘Wunderkind’ and a stickler for detail. He maintains, "[There is] no such thing as a job you can’t do." a credo he refined as a youngster repairing old clocks and jukeboxes. Using his newest pop-up book, The Hobbit, his slides showed the various stages of its production including the nesting sheets which he says are made "like packing a suitcase". Andy pointed out that in the production process books change and are continually refined by the printer. Robert Sabuda could be seen nodding his head in agreement. What came next was nothing less than a cornucopia of complicated movables Andy is working on and hopes to have published. There is the digital clock which moves so that the time is simultaneously told digitally and with hands and words. Something akin to a Meggendorfer is the spread made from an original drawing by Rube Goldberg. One lever produces all the manifold actions of the spread. If the high cost of using the Goldberg artwork can be overcome, this will be an exciting book. Rube Goldberg couldn’t have a better interpreter.
2:30 PM Break
I wish I weren’t such a compulsive collector! I should be catching my breath here and engaging in comfortable chit chat with others. But noooooooooooo! I have to get the many books I’ve brought signed. I need a computer just to keep track! In addition, I am running about on the lookout for Professor Gingerich who will speak tonight at the Brooklyn Public Library’s reception for the Movable Book Society.
We were all hushed waiting for Robert Sabuda’s presentation of the making of Brooklyn Pops Up, the exhibition’s catalog. Since I had accompanied Robert to Ecuador (see My Trip to Mecca), I was anxious to view the experience from his vantage point. My understanding of paper engineering and all its facets is greatly expanded by sitting at the feet of the pros. Now my fellow collectors would have that same benefit. It turned out that the Brooklyn Pops Up catalog, a collaborative effort of artists and paper engineers, a first in itself, created many firsts for Robert. The biggest was his having to review someone else’s work for a project, dealing with not only different styles but different technical approaches as well. Biruta is from the ‘old school’ putting die lines on vellum by hand. Her palate became the ‘color guide’ for the whole project. The use of computer disks was also new for Robert. He was able to see how color is more exactly translated with the computer. Not usually having to play ‘the heavy’, Robert had to send Ken Wilson-Max’s artwork back when it was noticed that Ken had introduced a peacock into the Botanical Garden. There isn’t one! Moerbeek’s and Dijs’ artwork was returned because the eggcream was drawn in a bottle. Eggcreams are fountain drinks served frothy in a glass. (There are no eggs in eggcreams, by the way.) When Robert marveled at all the people on the Coney Island beach, Chuck Murphy told him, "I got carried away". Even the venerable Maurice Sendak had a first-beside this being his first pop-up. He had to draw the body parts separately for his cover illustration in order for Robert to re-articulate them and make them move. A statistic which still has me scratching my head is that the production cost of pop-up books is generally one-fifth of the retail cost! That’s a lot of advertising and distributing and……profit?! Robert’s slides graphically added to the sequence of the catalog assembly. It still boggles the mind that all these books are hand-assembled and the catalog sells for under $20!
I am so relieved that Dr. Gingerich arrived early in Robert’s lecture, especially because the Professor was to give introductory remarks before he made his slide presentation at the Library. Timing was crucial since immediately following his talk, we were to take a bus to the Brooklyn Public Library to see the exhibition. Dr. Gingerich, white-haired with intense blue eyes and apple-red lips around an elfin grin, sported a book-covered tie. With the experience of a seasoned Harvard professor (over 30 years), he took command of the subject and walked us through the history of movables books in the Renaissance, his specialty. The leaf from Apianus’ Astronomicum Caesarum (1540) which he had loaned to the exhibition was the most complex one in the hand-made, hand-colored book made for Charles V. There may have been as many as 150 copies produced. Professor Gingerich believes the Astronomicum was published with a German handbook. The leaf in the exhibition is of the moons of Mercury and significantly, was both an instructional tool as well as an instrument itself. Mostly printed on rag-paper, many books of this kind were sold with uncut volvelles which the purchaser cut and put together. Often strings held the volvelles in place with pearls being used occasionally to serve as markers. Most pearls are gone today, having dried out with age. In 1967 in Leipzig, a facsimile was made of the Astronomicum. With all of today’s technical know-how, the volvelles were woefully inaccurate, and Dr Gingerich was enlisted to correct them. With our appetites sufficiently wet, we then were off to the Exhibition.
On the bus, our members seemed like a combination of campers and sightseers. I desperately tried to ‘see’ through the eyes of some members who experienced the magnificent New York skyline for the first time, crossing the East River on the Manhattan Bridge with the Brooklyn Bridge to the right and the Statue of Liberty beyond. Some members were so immersed in conversation I had to shout for them to look up and see the sights. I played travel guide to try to rid my stomach of butterflies. Will our members like the exhibition or yawn a ‘I’ve-seen-this-all-before’ yawn?
We lined up outside the Library under the huge banner proclaiming, Brooklyn Pops Up!, while local youths break-danced and mugged for the cameras. My husband, Harold, graciously lined up everyone’s cameras to take the shot while Dr. Gingerich muttered something about focal distance and wide-angle capacity. We knew it wouldn’t be perfect but we all wanted to have a memento of our coming together.
My memory of the reception is a big haze. While trying to get the Library staff to attend to Dr. Gingerich’s slides, I did notice broad grins, hear oohs and aahs, and just got to smell the wonderfully presented canapés which sailed under my nose. There was no way any food was getting down my gullet and I didn’t want a lump in my throat for the evening. Later, after the director of the library, Martín Gómez, and I gave welcoming remarks, we went up to the auditorium to hear Professor Gingerich’s presentation. He got our attention by speaking in Old English, the language of Chaucer, who reportedly made books with volvelles. With great detail and a clear love for the subject, Dr. Gingerich showed us astronomical books from the 16th century, telling us how they were made and for whom. I was too tired for note-taking, never even brought my pad. Forgive me, Dear Diary. I am happy to be among friends and see them enjoy the fruits of our labors.
9:00AM Saturday, September 23,
Nothing like a night’s sleep. The program was begun with two very different book artists, Lois Morrison and Debra Weier. For Ms. Morrison, pop-ups are not the focus of her art. She "doesn’t play with mechanical forms". The message is her focus and towards that end, she uses pop-ups and other three-dimensional devices. Her book, Endangered Species, is an example of her outrage at the fate of Chinese girls. Limited edition books, peep shows, and even mechanical dolls, express her ‘flights of fancy and imagination’. By being her own producer, she can be ‘self-indulgent’, keeping the process "entirely in [her] own hands".
Ms. Weier, in contrast, uses books as her form to convey "time and dimensional element[s]". Using large format panoramas with multiple sculptural elements, something akin to brightly colored spikes, Debra "moves through the landscape without interruption" as she did with a ‘book’ interpreting a poem by Pablo Neruda.
Pam Pease, tall, elegant, model-like, had to overcome the animosity of the women in the crowd to get her point across. Pam made the mistake of starting out by telling us she had begun her career as a swimsuit designer, the most dreaded of women’s apparel. (Those of us who have hidden in changing rooms, glowered.) But her sunny, self-deprecating delivery, and clear tenacity in achieving her ends overcame all first impressions. Pam Peas became my idol. She self-published her work, The Garden Is Open, which celebrated two elderly neighbors who tended their garden for the enjoyment of all around. They worked "for the sheer beauty of it", Pam told us. A newspaper in Chapel Hill, N.C. picked up the story of her book and the project mushroomed. In her studio, using an Apple Power Macintosh 8600 computer, Apple Color One scanner, and an Epson color printer 3000, she scanned her artwork into Adobe PhotoShop creating her first edition of 50 copies and the next 200 copies ordered as a result of the newspaper article. The pop-ups were all done by hand, and were ‘Smythe’ sewn by a library binder. To date, she has sold 3000 copies which are now printed professionally at a local offset printer. Initially at the steep end of the learning curve of publishing, Pam made many mistakes but learned from them. The distribution of her books was the greatest challenge and the ink to print them the costliest item. The Garden Is Open is in it’s 3rd printing. All who thought self-publishing is the easy way to go were given much to think about but not discouraged.
11:30AM Lunch Break
There is a street fair outside our hotel and I’ve gone out to get a snack. Several MBS members are going to the Chelsea area of Manhattan to see an exhibition by a Dutch book artist, Sjoerd Hofstra, whose work I have been following and recommend. I hope to get there another time.
During this break, book dealers are setting up in the next room, and we are warned we must wait. Many noses are pushed through cracks in the doors.
Our final formal lecture is not formal at all. Sitting at long tables, we are provided copies of David Carter’s, Bugs in Space, all ‘uniformly destroyed’ by Joanne Page who shows us how to repair them. On our desks are instructions, an envelope with mylar, a paper clip, Japanese and 2-ply Bristol paper, and Q-tips to apply glue. We share the glue on the desk as we did in kindergarten. Joanne cautions us that "all repairs should be reversible" and glue should be applied sparingly. We are given permission to slit the fore edge of a page to get to the torn mechanism inside, use the mylar to prevent glue from sticking in the wrong places, reglue detached tabs, and use mending paper to rejoin torn edges. Do we dare do this at home? We’ve been given the basic tools and the rest is up to us.
What follows the workshop is an ‘orderly’ free-for-all. Doors at one end of the room are opened (after the work tables are moved to the edges) allowing access to the book dealers and giving the paper engineers (Robert Sabuda, Biruta Hansen, Bruce Foster, Ken Wilson-Max, Kees Moerbeek, Carla Dijs, Linda Costello, Andy Baron,) room to sign their books. The fastest, longest lines form for Moerbeek and Dijs who have clearly been this route before. One must line up for Carla and then pass the books on which they collaborated to Kees. They are patient and happily discuss their books. Robert not only signs his books but also the poster he designed for New York Is Book Country which includes a pop-up book, of course! The room becomes raucous but good cheer is in the air. The camaraderie among the paper engineers is delightful to observe. I feel sort of maternal watching my ‘children’ get along so well. What did I expect? There could have been enmity, jealously and attitude. But there are no divas here, just a fellowship of artists.
My suitcase of books is out of control. What a schlep!
This good time is killing me!! I’ve just come back to my room and need to be dressed and fresh (!) by 7:30PM. It’s raining and Harold has had difficulty getting here but he does. My Rock! Feet up for 15 minutes will have to do.
Everyone is settled in and chatting at their respective tables, the room elegant and alive. Harold and I take our seats and dive into the conversation. The paper engineers have apportioned themselves among the tables much like the guests of honor they are. With what seemed like lightening speed, dinner is over and Ann Montanaro is at the podium to give the keynote speech. After, it will be my role to describe the Meggendorfer Prize and present it. It!!!!! I left it in my room, a victim of my fatigue. Giving Ann a sign, hoping she sees me and will slow the program, I race upstairs. As I re-enter the ballroom breathless with a towel-covered pizza box, Robert greets me at the door. "You missed the gift!", he half-cries. Our dear friends, members of MBS, had given Ann, Robert and myself a present with many a ‘Thank you." and I had missed it! Harold accepted the gift in my place. I had pulled a Christine Lahti. (She missed receiving her Emmy while in the Ladies’ Room.)
It was now Ann Montanaro’s turn to thank Roy Dicks for his hard work and successful production of the convention’s program, all the paper engineers who had contributed to the exhibition’s catalog, and Martha Carothers who had written a wonderful history of pop-ups for the catalog. Ann next gave us an overview of the state of pop-up publishing today. In compiling her Bibliography 2000, she had been able to graph the production of pop-ups over time. There was a steady increase of titles in the 1900s with almost a doubling of books in each decade beginning with 237 in the1960s. By 1997, almost 2000 titles were produced. Since then, the number of titles have been down except for the more complex books. Ann maintains that those numbers will continue to decline. Complex books will be supported by collectors like ourselves. But, our leader believes, pop-up books are here to stay. Whew!
Finally, we came to the very end of our program. Dear Diary, I was so excited to be given the privilege of presenting an award. Ann announced that for the first time we were to bestow a MBS Lifetime Achievement Award, and, without question, the recipient was to be Waldo Hunt of Intervisual, the man credited with ushering in the Second Golden Age of Pop-ups. In Wally’s unfortunate absence, the Award was accepted by Jerry Harrison who had worked in the late ‘60s and early 70’s with Wally at Graphics International, Wally’s first company. Mr. Harrison forthrightly spoke about the state of publishing at that time, and at Wally’s behest, donated to the Movable Book Society’s archives Andy Warhol’s Index Book and the first edition of Bennett Cerf’s Pop-up Riddles "Presented by Instant Maxwell House Coffee, A Random House Book," 1985. Wally would have enjoyed the accolades and the beautifully etched glass bookends.
After my explaining that the Second Meggendorfer Prize was unanimously chosen by the membership from the vetted list of titles, I announced the winner to be Robert Sabuda for his book, Cookie Count. Since the official award was not ready, Robert was given a pizza-sized chocolate chip cookie with ‘Second Meggendorfer Prize’ written on it. Without much fanfare, he warmly accepted the award and promptly cut it up and served it to all present. Hearty ‘Congratulations!’ and ‘Yum! yum!’ could be heard throughout the room. What a great way to end the convention with a sweet taste in our mouths.