Paper engineering is an all-encompassing term, used to refer to pop-up books, movable books and images, or any three dimensional structure created by cutting and folding paper. Using simple techniques, artists are able to achieve truly awe-inspiring and beautiful creations. Many books have recently been published on the subject, and museums from the Smithsonian Institution Libraries to The National Museum of History in Taipei have featured exhibits on paper engineering in the past two years. However, despite the art form’s relatively recent surge in popularity, paper engineering has been employed by bookbinders for hundreds of years.
|15th Century Volvelles, used to illustrate the movement of planets|
Paper engineering was instrumental to the effective demonstrating and sharing of scientific ideas and information, before other technology such as video was created. The first known examples of this usage were called volvelles and were used as early as the 1200s. Volvelles are moveable disks that rotate to reveal or indicate elements on the page. They were primarily used in mystical books or materials written in secret code. A century later, scholars began employing paper flaps in anatomy books to illustrate the different layers of the human body. Descartes used this method in his Renatus Des Cartes de Homine (1662), and similar paper flaps were later used to show the mechanical workings of steam engines in Moderne Technik (1912). These innovations were also used during this time to illustrate calendars, the lunar cycle, and astrology.
|Work by Ingrid Siliakus|
|Haunted House by Jan Pienhowski|
During the late 18th century, when improvements in literacy rates and publishing techniques rapidly accelerated, pop ups and moveables were created with more universal appeal. It was during this time that pop up books were first marketed to children (indeed this was the first time that any books were marketed to children on a large scale, beginning with the products of publisher John Newberry, for whom the Nerberry Award in children’s literature is named). Pop ups continued to enjoy moderate success over the next two centuries, until stronger paper quality allowed to genre to begin flourishing. In the 1960s, Vojtěch Kubašta, a Czech aspiring artist, whose father insisted that he study architecture, created dozens of moveable works and innovations. Waldo Hunt next took up the helm by establishing Graphics International, which printed hundreds of pop up books, including works by Jan Pienhowski, who is often credited with the advent of the “new wave” of pop up. Pienhowski employed several engineering elements of each page, and his first book, Haunted House, was a great success, demonstrating a market for these books.
|From Shawn Sheehy's A Pop Up Guide to North American Wildflowers|
Paper engineering continued to develop and expand and is used by a variety of professional artists, illustrators of children’s and adult literature, and scientists all over the world. If you are interested in learning how to conceive and execute your own creations, The Center for Book Arts is offering a workshop on The Mechanics of Moveables the first weekend in August, taught by acclaimed artist Shawn Sheehy. Details and registration information can be found here.
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