Opening a pop-up book is a surprising and fascinating experience for young and old.
Award-winning artist — and Cedar Rapids native — Matthew Reinhart will be visiting Iowa City this week to give a fascinating look at the work that goes into creating one when he visits the University of Iowa.
Now living in California, Reinhart has created dozens of gravity-defying pop-up books. He said it’s a profession that chose him, though he’d always had an interest in art.
“I began as sort of an unwitting apprentice to another paper engineer who needed help making a big deadline way back in 1998. I was actually more focused on getting into toy design at the time, having just finished my industrial design degree at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. But making pop-ups just felt natural to me, I guess, and my skills advanced fairly rapidly after,” he said.
He’s been creating paper defying pop-ups ever since gathering inspiration from street art to architecture to cereal boxes and everything in between.
“I try to keep my eyes open to the world around me because there’s so much that can spark an idea,” he said. “I think it’s important to keep an open mind and remain humble, because often times the student will school the master. Seeing other paper engineers explore new ways to fold, flip, arch and pop paper is super-exciting as well. Younger pop-up artists keep us older folks thinking fresh.”
Part of the reason Reinhart continues to find success in his career is that he continues to challenge himself.
“I am always learning something new and don’t ever want that to stop,” he said.
But don’t ask Reinhart to pick a favorite pop-up that he’s created.
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“Each one has its own special traits that make them memorable,” he said. “But I do have a couple books that advanced and challenged me in ways the others didn’t,” he said.
Reinhart’s first Star Wars project, “STAR WARS: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy,” was published by Scholastic in 2007.
“That meant so much to me, growing up as a Star Wars fan. Those movies and the universe they created, inspired me to become an artist from a very young age. In creating that pop-up book, I pushed my abilities as a paper engineer and as an illustrator into fantastic, new directions. I mean, that Darth Vader helmet pop-up and the working light-up lightsabers are two of my proudest moments!” he said.
He is also particularly proud of his non-fiction titles from Candlewick Press, Encyclopedia Prehistorica and Encyclopedia Mythologica because they not only challenged him creatively but he got to research two of his favorite subjects, paleontology and world mythology. His love of paleontology reminds him of his connection to the University of Iowa and he said he enjoys his visits back to Iowa as a trip down memory lane.
“When I was young, we lived in Iowa City while my dad attended dental school,” he recalled. “I remember my mom bringing me to see animal skeletons at the University of Iowa museum back when I was in kindergarten — I loved animals and dinosaurs — and that was the best she could do back then.”
This long-time connection to the University of Iowa prompted Reinhart to donate several of his works to UI Libraries Special Collections.
Staff at UI Libraries are thrilled.
“Much of the UI Libraries’ collection explores the world of the book arts while also challenging notions of what a book is and can be. This collection offers a unique look at a specific kind of book art, and it allows students a behind-the-scenes take on paper engineering,” said Elizabeth Riordan, Outreach and Engagement Librarian.
To celebrate the donation, not only will the works be on display on Tuesday afternoon at the Library. Reinhart also will speak and give a demonstration, Tuesday evening at Hancher in the Stanley Cafe.
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“Pop-up books aren’t just for children,” said Riordan, encouraging young and old to come see the exhibit and listen to Reinhart’s talk. “They really are a fascinating blend of art, engineering, and storytelling.”
Reinhart agreed, noting that he loves sharing his process with kids, adults, novices and experts.
“Sharing what I do and how I do it is always thrilling and I guess it’s just fun to share the journey of each book, rather than just the final book,” Reinhart said.
Jennifer Masada, strategic communication manager for the UI Libraries, said having Reinhart visit will be transformative.
“Mr. Reinhart’s high level of artistry is matched by his generosity. By returning to his home state for events like this, Mr. Reinhart inspires budding book artists and highlights the importance of nurturing creativity,” Masada said.
“I am surprised people are still interested and that I can make a living,” Reinhart said, joking. “You’d think in this very digitally interconnected world that paper-engineered books would be extinct, but things have turned out differently. More people are intrigued with real objects, like my books, and how they are made and how they can do it themselves. And I am happy to share!”