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Pop Art

Checking out VCU Libraries’ amazing collection of pop-up books


Story by Brian McNeill
Photos by Julia Rendleman and Pat Kane

As part of its collection of roughly 50,000 books and periodicals, VCU LibrariesSpecial Collections and Archives has numerous rare and popular pop-up books, providing a glimpse into the history of the colorful, three-dimensional medium, from late 19th-century children’s books to the modern-day art books packed with elaborate paper engineering.

“Hundreds of these books have been donated over the last eight years, and we’ve recently finished cataloging them all,” said Yuki Hibben, assistant head and curator of books and art, Special Collections and Archives. “So we’re reaching out to the community to provide access to researchers interested in publishing history, illustration, the book arts, education and a variety of other topics.”

A sizable chunk of the collection — around 800 pop-up books from throughout the 20th century — were donated by Betty Tisinger, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the Department of Art Education in VCU’s School of the Arts.

Tisinger, who had long collected children’s books for her children, as well as for the art inside of them, fell in love with pop-up books in particular while perusing the children’s section of a Boston airport book shop.

“Somehow, as pop-up books were to continue doing for many years, a pop-up book jumped into my hands. Yes, they are ‘movable’ books you know. It was a small carousel pop-up entitled ‘Thumbelina.’ It was from that moment that I was addicted and continued to be for many years,” Tisinger said. “How does one explain why one becomes ‘addicted’ to something? How does one explain what the heart desires? To me they are treasured works of art.”

Tisinger shared her addiction with her art education students at VCU, often teaching a bookmaking section, and visiting VCU Libraries’ collection of movable and pop-up books.

“I have been pleased to learn through the years that many of [the students] caught my addiction,” she said. “But it was about 15 years after I retired that I realized that my large collection was more than I could care for and I had a strong desire to share them. Perhaps they needed a new home.”

Tisinger met with University Librarian John Ulmschneider and agreed to donate the books, including the copy of “Thumbelina” that launched her passion for pop-ups.

“[Ulmschneider] and the Special Collections staff have continued their positive efforts not only for my books but for the entire pop-up collection,” Tisinger said. “To my joy, these beautiful books have that home.”


“How Columbus discovered America”

By Vojtěch Kubašta, 1961
Bancroft & Co.
Part of the Betty Tisinger Collection of Pop-Up Books

“How Columbus discovered America” was created by Kubašta, a major Czechoslovakian artist and paper engineer, who helped advance the medium in the 1950s and ’60s. The back cover of the book unfolds into a color illustrated pop-up of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria ships, while the front cover features a movable ship’s steering wheel of the Santa Maria, on which the cover title is printed.

“Pop-up publishing in Europe slowed down after the world wars,” Hibben said. “German designers had made many contributions to pop-up books, but the demand and production for their books came to an end as a result of the wars. Kubašta’s books stand out during the post-war period because they reached a worldwide audience. They were produced in Czechoslavakia by a state-run entity, but were marketed by a publishing house in London. Kubašta is often credited for influencing a revival in pop-up publishing in the United States that started in the late 1960s and continues to this day.”


“What the Children Like”

Published by Ernest Nister/ E.P. Dutton & Co., circa 1897
Part of the Betty Tisinger Collection of Pop-Up Books

“What the Children Like” features five double-page pop-ups that depict idyllic scenes of farming and family life. Printed in Bavaria, the book was made by Nister, a German whose company created numerous innovative pop-up books between 1891 and 1900.

“Pop-up books really started as instructional books in fields like astronomy and anatomy,” Hibben said. “There are works from as early as the late Middle Ages that would show the structures of things that were hard for people to understand. For example, there were books that moved in a circular fashion called volvelles that would demonstrate the movement of the moon or other heavenly bodies.”

Similarly, lift-the-flap books would show the inner workings of the human body. “Pop-up books really were not made for children until the 19th century,” she added. “There were few children’s books of any kind until then.”


“Catechetical Scenes: Christ our Redeemer”

by Mario Coerezza, 1955
Part of the Betty Tisinger Collection of Pop-Up Books

This book of catechisms is illustrated with pop-up scenes and was printed in Hong Kong with the blessing of the Vatican to be handed out by missionaries in the 1950s. “The intent of this book makes it interesting,” Hibben said. “It was designed as a pop-up book to be engaging and interactive. The dimensionality and movement brought the biblical stories to life.”


“The Jolly Jump-Ups: Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses”

by Geraldine Clyne, inspired By Robert Louis Stevenson, 1946
Part of the Betty Tisinger Collection of Pop-Up Books

This book, from a series of children’s books called “Jolly Jump-Ups,” features pop-up illustrations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s collection of poems for children, “A Child‘s Garden of Verses.” While pop-up production had declined during and after the world wars, this American series featuring the Jolly Jump-Up family was commercially successful.


“Andy Warhol’s Index”

by Andy Warhol, 1967
Random House
Part of the Betty Tisinger Collection of Pop-Up Books

Warhol’s “Index” is packed with found photographs, snapshots, photographs by Warhol‘s associates, photographic reproductions of his work, and other imagery, all centered around the topic of Warhol himself.

“A publisher approached Warhol about doing some kind of book,” Hibben said. “And while he visited the publisher’s offices, he saw some pop-up books and said ‘I want to do that.’ So he made his own sort of pop-up book creation. It has interviews, photos, and a sense that he was trying to bring the culture of his factory to life.”

It features a pop-up tomato paste can, a pop-up castle, a red paper accordion, a multicolored pop-up airplane, a 45 R.P.M. flexi disc with a portrait of Lou Reed, and much more.

“’Index’ … is one of the most important and exuberant Pop art objects ever published,” Martin Parr and Gerry Badger wrote in ‘The Photobook: A History, Vol. II.’ “From its holographic bubble-wrap cover to the various pop-ups and ‘gifts’ — the castle, the red accordion, the balloon (nearly always found perished nowadays, or stuck to the pages) — to the stream-of-consciousness photographs by such artists as Billy Name and Nat Finkelstein, it is also one of the ultimate photobooks-as-objects. It is, in addition, the primary Factory photo album, one of the most authoritative biographies of Warhol and a supreme example of the diaristic photographic mode before there was a considered diaristic mode.”


“Yi Costume Festival”

By Colette Fu, 2013
Part of the VCU Book Art Collection

Fu is an award-winning VCU alumna who uses photography and paper engineering to design massive and elaborate pop-up books that capture scenes from her travels.

“My pop-ups are a way for me to speak, mediate, express, delight and inform,” Fu wrote in an artist’s statement. “Constructing pop-ups allows me to combine intuitive design and technical acuity with my love of traveling as I try to understand the world around me. With pop-up books I want to eliminate the boundaries between book, installation, photography, craft and sculpture.”

“Yi Costume Festival” was produced as part of a Fulbright fellowship, in which Fu photographed 25 of the 55 minority tribes of China in the Yunnan Province.

According to the Brooklyn Artists Alliance website, “The hats pictured in this edition are inspired by a Yi folk tale: ‘Long ago, there was a young Yi couple in love. In pursuit of the girl, a jealous Devil King tried to kill the boy. An old man taught the young girl to crow like a rooster to call out the sun and drive the Devil away. The girl saved her boyfriend and the villagers now show their gratitude by wearing cockscomb hats that bring luck, safety and happiness to their people.’”.



By Rein Jansma, 1982
Part of the Betty Tisinger Collection of Pop-Up Books

This commercially available work, by Jansma, an architect in the Netherlands, features 10 folded pages that are glued together to create an accordion-like book with a pop-up staircase at each inner fold. It is a wordless book with a minimalistic presentation. All of the pages are white so that viewers can concentrate on the abstract pop-ups. “It’s popular among designers and architects as a study of space and structure,” Hibben said.


“Silly symphonies: Babes in the woods; King Neptune”

Part of the Betty Tisinger Collection of Pop-Up Books

Published in 1933 by London by Dean & Son, a major producer and innovator of movable children’s books since the mid-19th century, this 48-page pop-up book was based on the Walt Disney Productions’ “Silly Symphonies” animated film series that featured characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. The pop-up books were part a media franchise that included comic books, newspaper strips, children’s books and merchandise.



by Tauba Auerbach, 2010
Printed Matter, Inc.
Part of the VCU Book Art Collection

Auerbach is a major contemporary artist who created this six-volume set of oversized pop-up books, each featuring a die-cut paper sculpture that unfolds into an elaborate structure.

“While much of Auerbach‘s work has previously dealt with compositions staged in the flux state between 2D and 3D, [2,3] represents an expansion for the artist towards a more sculptural medium,” says the Printed Matter website. “Engineered by the artist, each ‘page’ opens into a beautifully constructed object, intricately conceived so that the large-scale paper works — some up to 18“ tall — collapse totally flat when closed. In [2,3], the six sculptures take their cue from a range of geometric forms — the pyramid, sphere, ziggurat, octagonal bipyramid (gem), arc, and möbius-strip.

“The use of a bright, contrasting palette is familiar from Auerbach‘s previous work across a range of materials, including acrylics, etchings and C-type prints. By matching intense color to form, [2,3] causes the eye to get lost in the twists and intersections of paper and the viewer finds it difficult to envision how the pages work without animating the book in hand. Bringing together an array of interests, Auerbach has created a groundbreaking project that advances the field of pop-up technology and works as an astonishing standalone hybrid book/art-object.”


“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: A Pop-Up Book”

By Robert Sabuda, 2003
Little Simon
Part of the Betty Tisinger Collection of Pop-Up Books

Sabuda, considered to be one of the most innovative paper engineers working in children’s books today, tells his version of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with six two-page spreads featuring large pop-up illustrations and fold-out sections with additional pop-ups. “He’s one of the major paper engineers of our time, and he’s very prolific,” Hibben said. “Sabuda is really pushing the limit of what you can do with paper engineering. He has really honed the craft.”


“White Noise: A Pop-Up Book for Children of all Ages”

By David A. Carter, 2009
Little Simon
Part of the Betty Tisinger Collection of Pop-Up Books

This children’s pop-up book features nine paper structures evoking modern art, each of which makes a noise as the reader manipulates the pop-ups and pull-tabs.