In celebration of World Pride, June Object of the Day posts highlight LGBTQ+ designers and design in the collection. This post has been excerpted and adapted from “Celebrating Pride Month with Paper Engineers,” originally published on Unbound, the blog of Smithsonian Libraries.
The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library includes more than 2,000 pop-up and movable books dating from the sixteenth century to the present day—one of the largest collections in a public institution. Creative artists, authors, and pop-up book designers (known as paper engineers) from the LGBTQ community are represented in the collection, including Robert Sabuda. For more than twenty years, Sabuda and other artists, such as Matthew Reinhart and Chuck Fischer, have created colorful, innovative, intricate, and entertaining pop-up and movable treasures that extend our enjoyment of holiday and popular children’s stories, as well as our understanding of solar systems, historic buildings, Bible stories, angels, and even phobias.
Sabuda, a best-selling children’s book creator, is a graduate of Pratt Institute in New York City, where he also began a program in Paper Engineering that continues to encourage the next generation of paper artists. His three-dimensional paper work is created using techniques that have endured for centuries. To create his pop-ups, Sabuda sometimes sketches the proposed design in two dimensions, although there is always the risk that what is drawn in 2D won’t work in 3D. Then, using just scissors and glue, he starts to create very rough paper mechanisms of the pop-ups envisioned. This process is exclusively trial and error, and, more often than not, the paper engineering is a failure. But very slowly, and bit by bit, a functioning pop-up will hopefully emerge. It can often take up to a dozen prototypes to arrive at the final, working version of the pop-up. After all the paper engineering is complete, 2D surface art is created. Sabuda’s surface-art techniques range from cut-paper collage to linoleum-block printing.
Sabuda’s resulting works are fantastical, dynamic worlds that awaken classic stories with refreshing life. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a jumbled deck of cards arches over the titular heroine, heightening the drama with multidimensionality. Architectural forms emerge from book spreads in the Wonderful Wizard of Oz to evoke the grandeur of the Emerald City. Through paper and glue, spectacular narratives become wonderful reality.
Stephen Van Dyk recently retired as Head Librarian at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library.