The University Record, October 15, 1997

Pop-up book artist enchants book lovers

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Pop-up book artist and 'paper engineer' Robert Sabuda recently delighted an audience at Chrysler Center with his presentation on pop-up books, a form he says has been considered 'the stepchild of the industry.' Photo by Bob Kalmbach


Turning his childhood love of pop-up books into a successful career has allowed Robert Sabuda to continue living in a world-of-wide-eyed wonder. As an author, illustrator, teacher and paper engineer, the Pinckney native now shares this wonder with chi ldren and adults through his colorful and intricately designed books.

Sabuda recently was introduced to an audience in Chrysler Auditorium by his aunt, Joan E. Smith, an interpreter and coordinator of student services for the hearing impaired at U-M. Sabuda gave a slide-enhanced presentation on the history of pop-up b ooks‹books, Sabuda said, that "are sometimes considered the step-child in the industry. And that just irks me, because I've always loved them."

When Sabuda isn't teaching at his alma mater, The Pratt Institute in New York, he is working on another pop-up book. He begins with a flat sketch and then works his way into a three dimensional sketch on card stock and applies his Exacto knife. Not only does he have to engineer what the work will look like when opened, he needs to figure out how the mechanism will close when the page is turned or the book closed.

It takes about two years from the concept to completion of a pop-up book, Sabuda said. That's two years from his imagination to a factory in Columbia, South America, where the labor-intensive work of gluing the paper parts of each pop-up are done by hand.

Sabuda's imagination is as lively as the pop-ups he engineers. For his rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas, Sabuda didn't depict the five golden rings with just five golden rings, but was inspired by his Pinckney home, a home decorated with a h unter's trophies. Sabuda decorated the antlers of his pop-up deer with five golden rings. And when the song comes to those ladies dancing, Sabuda said he stole the ballerina from his sister's jewelry box, used it as a model to sketch dancers in various poses, and then reinstated them in his own paper engineered pop-up jewelry box for the book.

Sabuda told his audience that as a child, a basketfull of pop-up books at a dentist's office helped dispel his fears. Now the paper engineer collects the books. But he has been known to buy other's books, rip them apart and figure out how to make hi s own.

Sabuda's appearance at U-M was sponsored by the School of Art and Design and Services for Students with Disabilities.