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Friday, June 11, 2010

Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn

On Monday, June 14, 2010, the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL) will be opening its latest exhibition, Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn, in the gallery space near the Dibner Library, located in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Various staff members from the Libraries (particularly the exhibition's curator, Stephen van Dyk of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Library in New York City, and book conservators from the Preservation Services Department) have been working hard with designers and fabricators from the Smithsonian's Office of Exhibits Central (OEC) to get everything ready.

SIL has one of the largest collections of toy and movable books in the United States, with more than thirteen hundred titles (including Joannes Regiomontanus' Liber Aureus (Calendarium), published in 1476 and featuring a diagram of a sundial with a movable arm). Although many of these books were mass-produced over the last hundred years, some of them were created in very limited editions, or they may survive in only a few copies. The exhibition will provide an overview of the four main categories of these ingeniously designed books, including:

  • Movables (books with movable parts that do not emerge from the surface of the page)
  • Pop-ups (books with parts that emerge from the page in various ways)
  • Folding books (for example, books folded like an accordion)
  • Fantastic forms (books featuring multiple kinds of intricate paper construction)
In the past, it was difficult for a library exhibition to provide a true sense of the highly interactive nature of these multi-dimensional, fragile, and artfully engineered books, since they might all be posed in static fashion behind glass panels in gallery cases. But SIL is using a variety of Internet and social media applications to make these amazing books more virtually accessible. See the exhibition blog for Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn to learn more about the world of toy and movable books, enjoy the stories of the Smithsonian staff who have been working on this show, see more pictures, slide shows, and videos about the books, and share your own thoughts and memories about the books you have seen and loved.

Shown above is a set of six etched scenes by the engraver and print-seller Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756), published around 1740 in Augsburg, Germany [Cooper-Hewitt library call number GV1521.E54 1740 CHMRB]. The separate scenes were designed to be connected together to form a three-dimensional diorama (also known as a tunnel book or peepshow). In 2009, SIL acquired this set as a group of loose paper sheets, practically in the format in which they were originally issued. SIL's book conservator, Vanessa Haight Smith, carefully prepared the sheets for exhibition (as she describes here) and OEC's Richard Gould created a transparent acrylic box for the display, bringing to life this enchanting scene of dancers in a formal garden.

--Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

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