Campus & Community

Books that pop

3 min read

From their centuries-old origins to today, pop-up books stand the test of time

The possibilities of pop-ups far exceed peekaboo with paper.

The art and science of paper folding grew from ritual beginnings in Buddhist Japan to a globally used art form. The shift from two to three dimension provides unique advantages — not just added life in surreal scenes, but realistic sculptural effects, as in children’s books, and representations of changes in time and space.

Take a look through the gallery to see where examples pop up across Harvard’s libraries.

It may look like child’s play, but the mechanics of pop-ups are often quite sophisticated, as seen in the complex design of an animal within its natural habitat.
Pop-ups help make a molehill mountainous.
With each new spread, a fresh scene opens in “Welcome to the NeighborWood.”
Change in dimension can bring an element of theater when pages become a stage for pop-up characters, as seen in Kara Elizabeth Walker’s 1989 tome, “Freedom: A Fable.”
Laser cutters have produced more intricate designs in recent decades.
A handmade book, “Sentences — Words Spoken in Prison to an Artist,” doesn’t follow a narrative but instead is a series of paper sculptures unified in theme.
Pop-up interpretations of a quote breathes life into a prisoner’s words, and the artist’s interpretation of them.
A face accordions out in this retelling of a Mexican folk tale by artist Joe D’ambrosia.
The more intricate the pop-up, the more planning and engineering it requires. “Dancescape” by Paul Johnson is pictured.
Jaunty chard stalks rise from the leaves of a culinary herbal book.
Tiny tips of green asparagus are lined up like nature’s birthday candles in “A Pop-Up Culinary Herbal.”
A hand seemingly strokes the spread in a limited edition at Houghton.
“Renovating History” gives different 3-D treatments to the same 2-D drawing.
A bookcase rising in relief requires substantial mechanical planning.
Movable books — featuring simpler construction, like flaps and revolving discs — predate pop-ups. This example is one of the earliest from Harvard’s collections; the diagram and flap teach mathematicians and artists to understand perspective.
Pages in this hand-tinted 1792 volume look deceptively static, but flaps move to reveal a transformation.
The book is actually a project bid for landscape architect Humphry Repton, who hand-illustrated the pages. The flap reveals the proposed changes for the grounds of an English estate.
An inset under the flap reveals illustrations of the underground infrastructure of the building in the photo.
This 1932 book, “Rodchenko on Moscou,” documents the extensive reconstruction of the city at the height of Stalin’s power.
Accordion foldouts reveal the lives led behind a building’s façade.