Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Movable Books Pop Up At The Smithsonian

They were first created for adults, as visual aids in teaching astronomy, astrology, and anatomy. But these days we see pop-up books mainly as a delightful entertainment for children. In June of 2010, the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution opened a new exhibit, Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop and Turn, showcasing the art of the "movable book." (This is a more inclusive term than "pop-up," as it covers all books with moving parts.)

A 20th Century Pop-Up Book For Adults.
[WARHOL, Andy] , Andy Warhol’s index (book).
With the assistance of Stephen Shore,
[and others] and particularly David Paul.
Several photos by Nat Finkelstein.
Factory fotos [sic] by Billy Name.
New York: Random House, 1967
(All Images Courtesy of The Smithsonian Libraries.)

Even today, the final assembly of pop-up books is such delicate work it must be done by hand. So imagine the painstaking work necessary to engineer such books when they were first created, before the industrial revolution, or even before the printing press. The Smithsonian show contains over 50 books spanning seven centuries to document the structure, design, and history of the many varieties of movable books.

Nister, E[rnest].
Wild Animal Stories: A Panorama Picture Book.
London: E. Nister; New York: Dutton, 1897

Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop and Turn includes stellar examples of every type of movable book: volvelles (wheel charts), accordion folds, flap books, pull-tabs, transformations (sliding slats), tunnel books (parallel cards designed to form a 3-D image), pop-ups, and more. The exhibit drew on the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' vast collection of over 13,000 movable books, and was created by curator, Stephen van Dyk, of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Library. Also of great assistance were conservators, designers, and fabricators from two departments of the Smithsonian, the Office of Exhibits Central and the Preservation Services Department.

CARTER, David A.
One Red Dot: A Pop-up Book For Children Of All Ages.
New York: Little Simon, 2004.

A companion blog to the show, Fold, Pull, Pop and Turn, includes an illustrated lesson on the importance of carefully and correctly restoring antique movable books. The Smithsonian Libraries' book conservator, Vanessa Haight Smith, was given a set of six loose cards decorated with hand-colored, etched scenes. These were part of a tunnel book created by the German master, Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756). The set, published around 1740, was a recent acquisition of the Cooper-Hewitt Library. Smith knew the six separate scenes were designed to be connected together to form a three-dimensional diorama. The finished work would depict aristocratic ladies and gentlemen dancing in a formal garden, all in precise perspective.

Six Etchings From: ENGELBRECHT, Martin.
Untitled Tunnel Book.
Augsburg: Martin Engelbrecht, ca. 1740.

The first problem faced by the conservator was that the legs of many of the figures had grown too weak from wear and tear to support their weight. But even worse, a previous well-meaning but inept "restorer" had used packing tape to attach wooden toothpicks to the backs of the worn figures. The tape needed to be removed quickly but carefully to avoid any further adhesive damage to the delicate laid paper of the cards. The tape and residual adhesive were removed with a scalpel, in a delicate act of "book surgery." Once out of critical condition and chemically stabilized, the figures' backs were "bandaged" with an application of wheat starch paste, topped by narrow strips of Japanese paper. This allowed the figures to once again "stand" without any further damage to the delicate laid paper of the original etchings.

Patient Engelbrecht In Critical Condition.

The Same Patient Stabilized By Proper Treatment.

Stage Two of the Engelbrecht restoration involved sending the six separate cards to the Smithsonian's Office of Exhibits Central. Here mount-maker Richard Gould created acrylic box with supports for each etching, placed in parallel at precise two-inch intervals. The scenes, perfectly aligned and gently held upright, now formed an enchanting, three-dimensional theatrical scene when viewed from the front. Many restorations of movable books are not so successful. The combination of delicate materials and rough handling has made antique movable books in fine condition both scarce and extremely valuable.

The Patient In Full Recovery.

Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop, and Turn will be on display at the Smithsonian Institution through Fall of 2010.

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