Children's Books, Collectibles, Vintage books

The Pop-up Art of Vjotech Kubasta

One of my favorite things to collect and sell are vintage children's books. I really gravitate towards works from the 1950s, 60s and 70s because I love their graphic illustrations and their color schemes.  There are certain illustrators that I have collected for years such as Alice and Martin Provensen and Mary Blair but one of the great things about children's books is that there just so MANY of them. Consequently, I feel there is always a new genius to be discovered. That was certainly the case last month when I found this freestanding paper pop-up Christmas decoration at an estate sale.

Vojtech Kubasta, 1967

I didn't know much of anything about this instant Christmas scene when I unfolded it. I identified it as Eastern European because of the onion dome on the church and thought it looked like it was from the 1960s due to the figures. On the back was a copyright notice written in a foreign language. It was priced higher than I would typically pay for unidentified paper ephemera but I just felt really drawn to it and it was a price I *would* pay for a Christmas decoration for my home so the purchase was made. (I don't always follow the maxim of 'buy what you like' but when something is more than I usually pay it helps to think about what I would pay if it were for myself.)

As it turns out, this piece was designed by Vojtech Kubasta (1914-1992), an artist and illustrator who spent the majority of his quite prolific life designing pop-up books, advertisements and scenes in Prague. It was designed and printed in 1967 as part of a yearly series of Nativity scenes. This presumably shows Prague readying for the upcoming holiday.

Vojtech Kubasta, 1967, detail

The focal point is this adorable baby Jesus, being fondly looked after by Joseph, who is smoking a long pipe and Mary, who is enjoying a mug of lager. And after giving birth to a savior in a manger, who's to say she doesn't deserve a refreshing beverage? Not me.

Vojtech Kubasta, 1967, detail

The details of the scene are very atmospheric and graphic. I love the simple yet expressive faces of the people and the wonderful snow falling all around. And the onion dome. As mentioned, I am always a sucker for the onion domes.

Kubasta is considered to have been an innovator of modern pop-up and movable books. His first pop-up was published in 1956 by ARTIA, a state-owned corporation in Communist Czechoslovakia. It was a version of Little Red Riding Hood. Many other pop-ups followed throughout the years including this version of Cinderella from 1972.

Vojtech Kubasta, Cinderella 1972 cover

The genius of this book is how simple, yet effective the pop-up elements are.

Vojtech Kubasta, 1972, Cinderella, detail


For example, this illustration of Cinderella's 'Happily Ever After' uses only the simplest of cuts and folds to create the effect of a 3-d table set for a banquet. The fact that the image could be printed as one sheet and then cuts made allowed the books to be manufactured more economically and therefore made more widely available. Hooray for mass produced wonderful stuff!

Vojtech Kubasta, 1972, Cinderella, detailThis is my favorite spread from the 1972 Cinderella book. Using a forced perspective, Kubasta creates an effect that makes the viewer feel herself to be part of the scene, Cinderella on her way to the ball, surrounded by magic and guided by a Fairy Godmother with an incredible hat.

By all accounts, Vojtech Kubasta was a very successful illustrator, publishing more than 120 titles and innumerable advertisements and free standing pieces in his lifetime. These are the two that I have currently collected but I am searching Pinterest for more, with the knowledge that next time I run across one I will know what it is.

Ellen G.K. Rubin is an expert collector of pop-up and other movable books. She has a great website called The Pop-Up Lady that includes descriptions and links to images of the recent Kubasta exhibit that she curated.

Finally, here's a great video of Martha Stewart visiting the Brooklyn Public Library for the Brooklyn Pops Up! exhibit. She shows many classic examples of vintage pop-up books, including some from our friend Vojtech Kubasta.

Martha knows that pop-up books are a 'good thing'. And so do I.