The City of Brotherly [and Sisterly] Love
by Ellen G.K. Rubin
[Look for the asterisk * for additional links to videos and websites at the end of this article.]
The Liberty Bell didn’t actually ring but we were summoned all the same to the City of Brotherly Love, September 18-20, 2014. Like America’s First Continental Congress, the Movable Book Society met in Philadelphia, PA at the Marriott Courtyard directly across from the monumental City Hall.
For the Movable Book Society’s Board, the event started earlier on Thursday. With just a short time for the meeting, Ann Montanaro jumped in with the Society’s financial report, later given out to members. We remain quite solvent from the sale of our 10th anniversary pop-up book, Celebrat10ns. Should we think of doing another? Membership dues were kept at the same rate. We now have 389 members worldwide. It is a fairly constant number.
Money from the previous conference auction is being used for scholarships to support emerging artists. Criteria for the awards were firmed up. We have Shawn Sheehy and Larry Seidman to thank for conceiving the scholarships and reaching out to paper engineers who may need them. We also started considering venues for the next conference, and suggestions from the members will be canvassed.
This year Ann conscripted her husband, Richard, to take care of check-in and, for those who remember faces but not names—like me!— photos were taken. Of course, we all took pleasure in seeing board member, Abby Mangan, in a very “family way.” Ann also gave out canvas bags and colorful plastic folders from “The Amazing Pop-up Book” exhibit she attended in Shanghai, China this past year. The sponsors of the exhibit generously provided these essential goodies for all conference attendees.
We immediately adjourned to refresh ourselves, check-in, and get to our first evening’s activity, dinner!! The check-in line was quite long with patient attendees chatting and getting to know each other or re-introducing themselves. Richard Staples was quite officious and clearly not in need of our help, although Roz Fink was behind him lending a hand wherever needed, as she always does.
We took our seats in the Juniper Room that would be our home for the duration of the conference. Ann introduced Shawn Sheehy, the program’s coordinator, whose two years of thoughtful work forged together this conference’s varied program.
At dinner, I had the privilege of sitting next to two new attendees, both from Hallmark Cards. With Hallmark’s important history with pop-up books, I was anxious to learn about the paper engineering process from Charity Fluharty, a paper engineer who had studied mechanical engineering, and Mike Adair, an illustrator. Charity had interned at Hallmark, and then stayed on. Hallmark has two paper engineers and a paper sculptor. As one would expect from people in their fields, Mike and Charity were mellow but enthusiastic about their work.
Mike told us—The Pop-up Princess, Dorothy Berman, was also at the table—that ideas for pop-up cards start at a Marketing and Planning meeting where the all-important price points of the cards are determined. The ideas are then passed to illustrators and paper engineers to see how they will be done. Dorothy commented that Hallmark cards are “not snarky enough.” I mentioned I had heard from my local card storeowner that Hallmark had discontinued making paper party products. Mike confirmed that was true.
Our conversation ended when Shawn took the microphone to formally start our program. As she did in Portland, Oregon, Colette Fu was our leadoff speaker. The grass doesn’t grow under Colette’s feet as she moves across China taking photographs, and then interpreting them into gigantic pop-ups. Colette spent 6 months in China documenting and working on “We Are The Tiger People” to satisfy her Fulbright requirements.
Colette’s slides were a colorful travelogue of ethnic and minority peoples in very rural China, mostly in Yunnan province. She creates a 17” x 25” pop-up book from her photos. It takes her one year to create the books. Astounding was the hand cross-stitched embroidery she added to the book mimicking the work of native peoples. She did one-third of the hand embroidery then photo-shopped it onto Tyvec. The slide that got the biggest laugh was the one in the toilet restaurant with the ice cream in a miniature toilet bowl! No kidding!
Especially exciting for us pop-up fiends was the video from the Shanghai pop-up exhibit, “Amazing Pop-up Books.” Ann Montanaro was in attendance and, together with Colette and six others, they opened the single spread from the world’s largest pop-up book.* It’s final size, 8.2 ft. by 5.6 ft., is 16.4 ft. when opened.
(Note to Colette: If this book is not submitted to the Guinness Book of Records, then Roger Culbertson’s Aesop Fables, 2002, will continue to hold the record.)*
Colette continued with images from her Swatch residency that documented other Chinese minorities. The Swatch board—George Clooney happens to be a member—judged her work. Her final hurrah was a pop-up book she did of Haunted Philadelphia. There was an infrared censor with blinking lights.
Shawn prepared us for the riotous Sally Blakemore by donning large colored glasses that lit up. He described at length Sally’s current book, Human Beings: Ordinary Meetings with Extraordinary People [Balboa Press, 2014], a memoir, then ended by saying, “Did you notice Sally’s bio is really a commercial for the book?”
Sally took the podium, now with red hair—unlike the green hair she sported in 2010—telling us she visited with Colette for 2 weeks in China. Sally said, “Colette put the FU in FUN!” Together they went to a paper making facility that had been active for 6000 years housed in a cave. The cave has “perfect alkaline water that can be used to repair 3000 year old texts.” The video of Sally’s visit had Chinese chanting and singing in the background.
On a table in front of us was an 8-panel panorama that combined pop-ups with paper cutting. Sally had created this book to highlight her trip and the people she met. The panels came to life when backlit by a flashlight. Along the border were LED lights flashing green and yellow. She said of the 24 million Shanghai people, “These are the people who make our books.” Sally’s memoir, available from Amazon, describes her long history in making pop-up books and the people she met along the way. Sally read excerpts. You’ll laugh your way through the book. The spirit of Brotherly Love was pervasive in Sally’s talk.
Before the next 3 fifteen-minute talks, Shawn reminded us to bid on the Silent Auction items donated by members. The proceeds fund scholarships for deserving paper engineers.
We were grateful for the videos that punctuated Bradley N. Litwin’s talk on his MechaniCards. Brad described his 30 years of kinetic sculpture and guitar making. Without formal training, Brad creates these Rube Goldberg-type movable, quasi-postcards that whirl around and move with a simple crank. Among his larger projects are sculptures that launch a marble into a dragon’s mouth, a bicycle moving around a track (Yike-a-Cycle), and 4-inch ping pong balls being thrown into funnels. Brad performed the music playing in the background of each video. http://www.bradlitwin.com
It was no surprise that his father was also an inventor. It took much effort to get Brad’s works to be affordable. They are created to order and can range in price from $4000-$14,000. He sold his editioned works at the book sale for under $100. His appearance on the Martha Stewart Show precipitated 2-3 orders an hour. The YouTube videos have 2.4 million viewers. All the work was done in his Philadelphia garage until he moved to a studio and hired help to fulfill the orders. He bought a die-cut machine to facilitate the cutting. But like all movables, his MechaniCards must be hand assembled. His “Thumbs Up”–which I bought—has over 75 moving parts. He said he “needs to cut back on skill to rev up scale.” In the spirit of Brotherly Love, Brad invited MBS members to his studio on the Sunday following the conference. His music CDs were also for sale.
A somber note, begun by Kyle Olmon, interrupted the levity of the evening. Chuck Murphy and Dennis K. Meyer had recently passed away and deserved to be feted by fellow paper engineers. Kyle, Renee Jablow, and Sam Ita all spoke about their time with Dennis. Both Kyle and Renee worked with him at Intervisual Books in California. Kyle was an intern. Dennis, a layback fellow, looked over others’ work, had great attention to detail, offered inventive new book ideas, and when stuck, came up with good solutions. Dennis co-engineered Nick Bantock’s books, There was an old lady and Jabberwocky.
Sam, who worked with Dennis 6 or 7 years ago, commented how meticulous Dennis was but “smoked like a chimney.” Kyle read comments by José Semanario who said Dennis was a “perfectionist” and strove to have “every project tell a story.” Wayne Kalama of Hawaii wrote, “Dennis could draw with a scalpel.” If the name Dennis K. Meyer does not roll off your tongue, check your list of classic and favorite books to see how much you love his work.
Chuck Murphy died May 18, 2014 at age 65. Tor Lokvig contributed to Chuck’s obituary in the August issue of Movable Stationery. Kyle reported the impressions of David Carter who said, “I want to be like him.” Others said Chuck had “impeccable logic, worked alone, and was an excellent guitarist.” Waldo Hunt’s daughter, Jamie, called Chuck “a craftsman who was fun at a party.” I remember Murphy from our 1998 Los Angeles Conference. As a writer, I was comforted to hear Chuck say, “Contact me. All writers want to be interrupted.”
I never tire of calling the next speaker, Emily Martin, “The Erma Bombeck of Pop-ups.” Her breezy style was a fitting way to end our first day. Emily of Naughty Dog Press, and a faculty member at the University of Iowa, has an impressive list of books housed at impressive venues, like MOMA, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Victoria
& Albert Museum in England. Her carousel book, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, has been traveling in Europe and Japan as part of the Designer Bookbinders International exhibit.
Working through 8-10 models of this book and experimenting with various carousel formats, Emily took over her guest room and “refused houseguests.” The book is constructed with piano hinges allowing the book to lay flat. The muddy covers and some interior spreads mimic the stonewalls of Juliet’s castle. Additional text connects segments of the carousel.