Movable Book Society’s
East Brunswick, New Jersey, 1996
by Ellen G.K. Rubin
(reprinted from Movable Stationery Vol.4, No. 2, June 1996)
For those of us who attended The Movable Book Society Conference on April 18-20, one of the thrills, among many, was to participate in the first-ever occasion. Ann Montanaro, the organizer and hostess, had provided attendees with a packet outlining the events, including a specially designed pop-up by Maria Pisano and made by Ann herself. The excitement was heightened by the legitimacy of our very own convention.
The even was kicked-off with a trip to Preview Night of the New York Antiquarian Book Show at the 69th Street Armory. Being a New Yorker, I met the bus from East Brunswick at the Armory. Exiting first from the bus was Robert Sabuda acting as a troop leader. Thirty or so excited "scouts" from as far away as Arizona, Texas, Michigan, Maine, and Georgia spilled from the bus. Ann, ever the protective den mother, stayed behind to assist some late comers and arrived later. The group quickly dispersed into the show to search for “pop-up treasures." A group gathered at Aleph-Bet’s exhibit, always filled with new delights. We especially delighted in the Speaking Picture Book, the one many had only seen in Haining. Our paths crossed at Jo Ann Reisler’s booth, and we foraged through her large numbers of pop-ups. At a booth from Spain, there was a 17th century astronomy book in Spanish studded with volvelles. I, myself, decided to hunt for contemporary limited editions and found several by Julie Chen, Sande Wascher-James, and Maryline Poole Adams. The exchanging of ideas, experiences, and tricks of the hunt had gotten well underway. There was no question that we all felt the uniqueness of the opportunity to “talk pop-ups” without fear of meeting with cold, disinterested stares.
Our “goodnights” back at the Hilton were filled with giddy anticipation.
The next morning we got down to the business at hand. Carol Barton, a book artist herself, began her talk on the history of pop-ups showing slides illustrating early books. Carol had done much research at the Smithsonian’s Dibner Library and at the Library of Congress. After movable type was invented in the 1400s, many movable books were astronomy texts with volvelles held to the page and activated by strings. She showed us a 1534 hand-colored French astronomy text with layers of wheels and volvelles, a 1598 navigational guide, and Euclid’s geometry of formulae with flaps. (I had seen Euclid’s text at the Antiquarian Book Show in San Francisco offered for $25,000.)
Other early books involved medicine and anatomy. One from 1555, seen at the NIH National Library of Medicine, demonstrated successive layers of male and female anatomy and related various aspects of anatomy to the Zodiac. Surgery was performed according to the sign of the afflicted body part. Books on animal husbandry also used the flap technique to show the anatomy of various animals. Movable books became more commercial with Humphrey Repton’s Modern landscape gardening of the 1700s. These books were used to illustrate and advertise Repton’s “before and after” landscaping ideas.
It was not until close to the Victorian age, when children were no longer a large part of the work force, that books especially for children became fashionable. The first books for children, in the 1600-1700s, looked to their moral education. The metamorphosis books were the first with cut pages. Harlequinades, as they were called, combined text with pictures, believed to be hand colored. Robert Sayer (1767-1810) is credited with promoting this format. Tunnel books were based on early peep shows and were made for souvenirs. Many may be seen at the Smithsonian and Cooper-Hewitt Museums.
The behemoths of children’s books were Dean & Sons, Raphael Tuck, Ernest Nister, and the McLoughlin Brothers. These publishers used various techniques to make the story come alive. Tuck [Ed. Note: should be Dean] was one of the earliest in 1856 with Cinderella. The run was estimated at 4,000 copies. Meggendorfer was recognized as the “Father of Mechanical Books” and enjoyed an international distribution.
The question of how diecuts were made and when they started being done on presses was discussed. Carol pointed out that diecuts before the 1880s were probably done by hand. The early volvelles may have been cut and assembled by the purchaser. It is not known for certain whether Meggendorfer’s diecuts were machine done or if he created nesting sheets. The Library of Congress has several movable book patents starting in the 1880s. Carol suggested contacting librarians for permission to see and possibly photograph books in the various collections. She cautioned that despite stated rules, how extensively one is allowed to handle any particular collection “depends on the librarian more than the institution.”
Ms. Barton, who started out as a painter, is now a book artist with such books as Instructions for Assembly and Tunnel Map. She credits the change from letter presses to offset presses and the availability of commercial presses to artists for spurring on the artists’ book movement. There have been several shows at the Smithsonian, The National museum for Women in the Arts, and Hofstra University, adding to the public’s heightened interest in books as art.
From this very academic discussion, we next were treated to the exuberant style of Robert Sabuda. Robert, using slides, described the incredible creative process employed to animate The Twelve Days of Christmas, his sequel to The Christmas Alphabet. We watched in awe as the nine drummers (mice using their tails to drum) moved from a sketch to a rough composite to a tighter comprehensive form. Hours upon hours were spent cutting, folding, and gluing to perfect the movement, all the while keeping an eye on the all-important glue-point. In fact, for me, the take-home message of the conference was “mind the glue-points,” whose location and number determine the execution and price of a pop-up book. It was thrilling to watch the creative process in motion. To Robert, this project was “the hardest thing (he had) ever done.” Creative abandon must always be tempered with an eye to the final cost. In fact, The Twelve Days of Christmas will break the $20 ceiling for children’s books. Little Simon will print 150,000 copies, significantly higher than the average 20-40,000 for pop-up books. There will be a limited edition as well.
With the creative work done, Robert showed us the production in China. The stock is on 50% recycled, acid-free paper. The diecuts must be precise, within millimeters, in order for the movable to work properly. The books are assembled by hand by 1600 women who live at the job site in dormitories. He was happy to see where they live and talk to them about their lifestyles. Mostly they work for 2-3 years, being well paid, and sending their money home. Better eye-hand coordination seems to be the reason women are chosen over men. After all parts of the book are assembled, they are all sewn together by one woman on a Singer sewing machine!
Robert Sabuda graduated from Pratt Institute where he now teaches. He started doing children’s illustrating in 1991 but began paper engineering with The Christmas Alphabet. He alternates between the two art forms to give himself a rest from the paper engineering. The Christmas Alphabet, published in 1994, will be offered this year as limited edition as boxed Christmas cards.
As we waited for our lunch to be served, Ann asked the fifty or so participants—collectors, dealers, book artists, paper engineers, and librarians—to tell us all something about themselves. Each person stood and briefly spoke, the meeting momentarily took on the tone of an AA meeting. Several told of “trying to resist buying new pop-ups,” lying about for whom the books were bought, possibly a child grandchild, or student, and futile promises to limit collections or stop altogether. Many nodded their heads in recognition of similar feelings. There was a consensus that books were purchased if they passed “the smile test,” and that it was unique to still be able to buy things made by hand. Many expressed the sentiment it was great to be in the company of so many who take pop-up books seriously.
During lunch, those collectors and dealers who had brought books, sold and swapped them. Ed Hutchins was one of a number of book artists selling their contemporary books. Certainly the paper engineer who brought the most “oohs” and “ahhs” was David Wittredge. He has a patent for movable cards that are not yet commercially produced. He delighted us with Dorothy clicking her ruby slippers, Chuck Berry dancing across the card, and Cary Grant escaping in “North by Northwest.” Among the crowd around him were the paper engineers Bruce Foster, Chuck Murphy, and Robert Sabuda. They all but disassembled the cards to see how these fantastic movements were made.
We continued our lectures with Joanne Page from California. Although Joanne had been a paper conservator for many years, she was smitten by the “pop-up bug” when she bought her first pop-up, one in poor condition. The challenge of repair and the satisfaction of the finished book launched her own quest for pop-up books. Joanne talked of the four “enemies of paper,” water, light, insects, and humans. She suggested keeping a stable environment of humidity, protection from light, good housekeeping to combat insects, and avoidance of rough handling. She quoted Maurice Sendak who called children “a joyously destructive audience.” Many practical tips were given for removing tape, dirt, and pencil marks often with just water, a fine brush, and Q-tips.
Before our next speaker, Lize Wessels, Ann took the opportunity to introduce Chuck Murphy, Biruta Akersbergs Hansen, the paper engineer for Parading with Piglets, along with Carol Barton and Robert Sabuda. These four engineers had recently come back from the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, Italy. After a brief description of the Fair, a necessity to distribute books worldwide, each answered the question, “Which paper engineer they liked the best?” Carol remembered the Alice in Wonderland, published by Macmillan, with its “cascade of cards.” Biruta, relatively new to the profession, didn’t have a favorite but liked the “fine old diecuts.” Chuck and Robert both were inspired by the work of Vojte¹ch Kubas¹ta, a favorite we would hear repeated later by Waldo Hunt.
Elizabeth Wessels, always entertaining, talked about
the trial and tribulations of being a dealer. Her
recent catalog with a pop-up insert and a foreword
Keith Moseley, Lize states, is “absolutely her last.” Most of her
books she gets by networking with other dealers, especially some in her native
England who “stockpile” books for her. Lize was chagrined by seeing
books still in print in recent catalogs at inflated prices. Many of her catalog
books were available for sale at the show. One question we all shared was “Who
are the Muzzis?”
The next activity was a bus trip to the Alexander Library at Rutgers University. We were proudly escorted by Ann to an exhibit of eighty-three books from her pop-up collection of about 2,000 books. The exhibit, “The Pop-up world of Ann Montanaro,” with colorful catalog and a history of pop-ups, is an important one for any collector to see. The books, in two galleries, were well presented, with attractive glass cases, good lighting, and informative captions. In addition, the exhibit is described in detail on the World Wide Web at http://www.rutgers.edu/rulib/spcol/Montanar/p-web.htm. Ann was assisted on the computer by Michcael Joseph. Participants lingered at various books marveling at the pop-ups or subject matter. There was a book, Confirmation, from a series on the Catechism, a Gillette razor promo with many sporting events, and the Pop-up White House. Many formats were represented, e.g., carousels, panoramas, miniatures, and pop-ups in cereal boxes and a refrigerator. Of course, there were the usual cries of “Oh, I have that one!” or “I never knew that book existed.” The festive atmosphere was heightened by the Bee, Ant, and Spider from the Bouncing Bug series hanging from the ceiling. Exhausted from a day of excitement, concentration, and active participation, we were bussed back to the Hilton to rest before our evening banquet.
On the occasion of our first Pop-up Convention, it was fitting to pay homage to the man who made it all possible, Waldo Hunt. As Wally spoke, it became apparent how he happened to be the person who single-handedly revived an art form, one that had ostensibly languished since the First World War. He ascribes his penchant for pop-ups to seeing ones by the Czech artist, Kubas¹ta. Many people assume Mr. Hunt comes from an art or graphics background. However, it was for his work in advertising that he first produced pop-up inserts. For years, he was frustrated in his efforts to get any publisher to publish a book of pop-ups. It wasn’t until his company, Graphics International, produced Bennett Cerf’s Pop-up Riddle Book that he had his first breakthrough. He sold 100,000 copies to Maxwell House as a promotional piece with Cerf’s “terrible jokes.” When Mr. Cerf bought 50,000 copies for Random House at $.11 per copy, “that was the beginning of the modern pop-up book.” Within two years, Graphics International was producing 2-3 million books a year with about 40-50 pop-up titles.
In 1966 Graphics was so successful in selling to Random House and Hallmark Cards that Hallmark “decided to buy the company.” Working now for Hallmark Books, Waldo saw a great potential in the foreign markets and started selling overseas. Soon after, Intervisual
Books was started, and the production of pop-up books has not diminished.
Mr. Hunt spent some time attributing the success of pop-up books to the role played by Carvajal International in Cali, Colombia, South America. Mr. Guillermo Holguin, Vice President of Carvajal attended the conference. Carvajal was a work force which has grown from 500 to 2,000 women in four locations, including Ecuador. Waldo outlined the attention Carvajal gives to working conditions for its workers, even including evening classes to further their education. Mr. Holguin stated some workers had been with the company for almost 25 years. The diligent work of the paper engineers, such as chuck Murphy and Jan Pienkowski and the support of the conference attendees were humbly acknowledged. Mr. Hunt concluded by saying of Intervisual “We are not afraid of CD-ROMS. There is always going to be a place for a child to do something himself.” He hinted there was more stories he could tell but he’ll wait for another time. (The next conference, perhaps?) The banquet concluded with more book swaps and a lot of socializing. A final toast was given to Ann Montanaro in acknowledgement of her efforts in creating The Movable Book Society and newsletter and coalescing an otherwise diverse group of people.
The next morning, all of us still aglow, we were
treated to two “hands-on” sessions.
As if Robert Sabuda’s lecture did not put us sufficiently in awe of the
paper engineer’s creativity, we were now going to make pop-ups ourselves
under the tutelage of Joan Irvine, the author of several “how to” books
on pop-ups. Joan, a native of Canada, related starting as a Montessori teacher,
writing stories for children, and self-publishing them in the early ‘80s.
She progressed through a series of activity books and won an award as a “Young
Achiever” garnishing the honor of dinner with the Queen. After setting
aside “boxes of rejection slips,” she finally found a publisher.
Her newest book is the multicultural, Holiday pop-up cards.
We spent the next hour trying our hands at making three different types of pop-ups using cartoon figures and materials provided by Joan. After cutting, pasting, folding, and coloring, those of us seated next to book artists fully appreciated the value of talent. Few among us showed off our final products.
The last session of the conference was given by Maria Pisano, a book artist. Maria taught us how to make boxes for books. These boxes serve to keep special books safe from light and dust. They are made of acid-free materials. We were each given the pop-up book, The Red Dragon, to cover. We struggled with terminology, tools and heavy-weight cardboard. Most of us were successful but only by Maria and other cognoscenti pitching in to show us the way. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have such boxes for our very special books? Instructions sheets were provided in our packets.
As goodbyes were said to new and old friends, we
looked to Ann Montanaro and asked, “Is this the First Annual Movable Book Society Conference?” Like
long-time friends taking their leave, many were heard saying, “We have
to do this again. Soon!”
(Aside: For those I promised a transcript of Mr. Hunt’s talk, please be patient. I have enlisted the help of the FBI’s listening devices and it will take a while to transcribe. ER)
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