A visit to the Movable Book Society Conference 2018

In September 2017, I received the message from  The Movable Book Society that my pop-up design for the letter ”C“ was included in the ”A-Z – Marvels in Paper Engineering“ collection.This publication was to be presented to the public one year later at the Society’s 25th anniversary celebration. (You will find images and a video of my design here.) Now all the designers involved in this book were asked whether they would like to take part in the conference in Kansas City to personally sign the double pages. Since I had never attended such a conference before, I first called my colleague, pop-up designer and illustrator Maike Biederstädt, and asked her about this topic. She told me enthusiastically about the last MBS meeting in Boston in 2016 and said that I should definitely try to attend the next conference in Kansas City in September 2018. So my decision was made: I wanted to be there.

Unfortunately a trip to the USA is very time consuming and expensive – and so I spent a lot of time in the coming weeks looking for reasonable flight connections until I finally found a flight from Düsseldorf via London and Chicago to Kansas City. The planned travel time was about 14 hours. By chance Maike had booked a very similar flight connection, so that we would meet in London to travel the second and third stage of the journey together.

When I told my friend, the filmmaker Christopher Helkey from Los Angeles, about my travel plans during a Skype call, he was very excited and suggested to take part in the conference. His idea was to present all the designers involved in the A-Z collection in a video. I was very pleased because after Christopher shot a video about my work in 2013 during an exchange semester in Germany, I had not met him personally for many years.

The three of us booked an accommodation near the conference hotel.

On September 25, 2018 the time had finally come. I flew to Kansas City. At my first stop in London I met Maike. When we finally arrived at Kansas City airport after another transfer in Chicago, Christopher was already waiting for us there. Together we took a taxi to our house. When we finally arrived there, it was quite late at night.

My trip had taken about 19 hours instead of the planned 14 hours – but now we were finally there! Each of us chose one of the bedrooms and then it was time for a night’s rest. The next morning – well, to be honest, it was almost lunchtime – we went for a walk and explored the way to the conference hotel.

(Maike, Christopher, Peter)

From The National World War I Museum and Memorial we had a wonderful view of the city:

The large building on the right is the Crown Center where our conference took place.

After a delicious lunch we went back to our accommodation. Maike wanted to rest a little from the long journey. But Christopher wanted to bring his film equipment to the hotel and set it up there. I accompanied him. In the conference hotel we met the designer and paper engineer Shawn Sheehy, one of the organizers of the conference. He allowed Christopher to convert his hotel room into a film studio. Unfortunately, the fantastic view from the window on the 15th floor had to be blocked with a screen made of opaque fabric.

It took Christopher a few hours to be satisfied with the setup. He marked the stand of each tripod with tape on the floor so that he could immediately start recording the next day.

Meanwhile Maike had already sent us some text messages and invited us to meet pop-up artist and bestselling author David A. Carter in the hotel bar in the evening. Since Maike was supposed to interview him live on stage the next evening during the conference, they had a lot to talk about. That’s why Christopher and I only greeted him briefly and exchanged a few words with him. Then, after a short dinner, we made our way back to our house.

The meeting should begin on Thursday, 27 September! Christopher left for the hotel shortly after breakfast to make the final preparations for his filming. I had a very long and intensive talk with Maike about our projects. Although we both develop pop-ups, our projects are quite different. It was very interesting to hear from Maikes what it’s like to design the pop-ups for a complete book for a publisher. But we also have a common client: Each of us designs pop-up cards for the collection of the MoMA Design Store (the shop of the Museum of Modern Art in New York) and so I finally got to see Maikes designs in original, which I had only seen online on the MoMA website before. That was great!

In the early afternoon I walked to the conference hotel in bright sunshine. The official opening of the conference should take place at 16:30 o’clock – and so I had enough time to talk to some of the guests who had already arrived. Since David A. Carter had arrived quite early, I had the opportunity to talk to him a bit more intensively. His work had already inspired me during my studies (29 years ago). It was great to finally get to know him personally.

But at some point I had to go to Christopher’s ”film studio“. I had agreed with him to be available for the very first shots, so that he could have made changes to his concept or his technical equipment if necessary. After a few test shots everything was already done to his satisfaction, so that the next ”A-Z-Designer“ could be filmed. I went back to the conference room.

Gradually more and more conference participants arrived. A total of about 100 people attended the conference. About a third of the participants are ”paper engineers“ (pop-up designers). About two thirds of the participants were collectors of pop-up books and similar things, e.g. pop-up cards.

I was totally overwhelmed that many visitors approached me by name (although I had never met them personally before) because they already knew my work. That was great! I knew a lot of names – but of course I didn’t know what most of my colleagues looked like. It was very exciting to gradually find out how many designers, whose work I had known for a long time, were personally present at the conference.

After a festive dinner there was a short speech by the organizers and then the interview with Maike and David began.

David had so much interesting to tell! That was very impressive. I must admit, however, that it was also quite exhausting for me to follow the discussion in English. I’m not a native speaker – and I was quite tired because of the time difference. But I liked what I understood! After the interview some participants wanted to go to a bar with David in Kansas City, a former ”Speakeasy“. Unfortunately, I was too tired already – so it was not an option for me to come along. Too bad! But you can’t have everything 😉

The next morning (Friday, September 28, 2018) the conference started at 9:00 am. There were several lectures that I can’t list all here – if you want, you can have a look at the complete conference program on the website of the Movable Book Society. I particularly enjoyed talking to a variety of people between the presentations.

In the afternoon I visited the Linda Hall Library with a smaller group. In a special exhibition specially set up for the conference, we were presented with various historical books in which pop-up techniques had already been used many hundreds of years ago. The oldest book was from the year 1550 – and it already contained movable, rotatable elements made of paper (so-called Volvelles).

In other historical books foldable elements were already integrated, as for example in this book from the year 1570.

In addition to historical books on the subject of ”Movable Books“, the library also presented some recent works. We saw sketches and models by the artist Chuck Fischer, who together with various paper engineers has already created many successful pop-up books. Funnily enough, I got to know Chuck personally the next day at the conference. But I didn’t know that at the time!

In the late afternoon many of the participants gradually returned to the conference hotel – and so an unofficial ”Show & Tell“ developed in the lobby. Many colleagues had brought their own works (yes, I also had something with me), which were now presented to the great enthusiasm of all participants. That was amazing! Since Christopher had been working all day on his film recordings, I suggested to go out for dinner with him. I myself also needed a little ”breather“ after so much input! After dinner I went back to the conference hall where the official ”Show & Tell“ took place. Designers already sat at several round tables and presented their most amazing projects. For me personally this evening was the highlight of the whole conference. I saw wonderful constructions and had conversations with fantastic designers. I would have liked to do that until late at night. Unfortunately I got so tired around half past one (0:30) that I had to leave for our accommodation. Too bad. I would have liked to go on like this for hours!

Saturday 29 September was the last ”official“ day of the conference. On this day, the program began at eight o’clock in the morning with a joint breakfast. Here you can see some of the participants from our “international table”:

From left to right: Peter from Germany , Maaike and Rianne from The Netherlands, Ines and Sheilagh from Brazil, Maike from Germany, Christopher from the USA.

This conference day was completely filled with lectures and presentations. I can’t list all topics here – you can find the whole agenda on the MBS website.

Bruce Foster gave the keynote presentation. He showed in impressive pictures and stories how his great Harry Potter pop-up book came into being.

Until lunch – parallel to all other events – there was a so-called ”silent auction“ where bidders could enter their bids in a list. The books and exhibits had already been exhibited on the previous days, but I didn’t get to take a closer look at them until Saturday. (Too many dates!). I also tried to bid for a certain book – but unfortunately I was outbid later.

I was particularly pleased to meet my colleague, the great designer Yoojin Kim again, who I met at the Iggesund Design Experience in Sweden in late summer 2016. She gave a lecture about her latest book ”Shells“ and explained (among other things) how the parts of a certain double page are assembled.

I also gave a lecture – probably the ONLY lecture at the conference that wasn’t about books: ”Pop-Ups Beyond Books” was my topic.

The highlight of the conference for most participants was certainly the presentation of the A-Z collection.

Creative Director Monika Brandrup from publishing house Up With Paper Luxe presented how she and her team managed to turn the idea of an A-Z pop-up collection into reality. The effort to produce this collection was far greater than I had imagined.

After the presentation of the A-Z-Collection on stage, we now had the opportunity for the first time to have a close look at all the letters of the collection – and to touch them! Some of the designers had travelled to the conference personally – like Maike and me – and so we could take a group photo in the foyer of the hotel with all participants present. (Unfortunately, not all designers for all 26 letters of the alphabet could come to the conference personally).

From left to right:
Kyle Olmon (O), Sheila Hirata (T), Yevgeniya Yeretskaya (Z), Simon Arizpe (A), Isabel Uria (S), Katherine Belsey (X), Yoojin Kim (F), Bruce Foster (A-Z Logo Pop-Up), Eric Broekhuis (E), Shelby Arnold (U), Shawn Sheehy (W), Courtney McCarthy (L), Peter Dahmen (C), Jess Tice-Gilbert (G), Rob Kelly (K), Maike Biederstaedt (P), Monika Brandrup (Creative Director, Publisher)

After the group picture, we designers sat down at the tables in the foyer and started signing our double pages personally. Many collectors had purchased several editions of the A-Z-Collection, so that we were busy with this work for some time.

Parallel to the book signing, pop-up books and cards from dealers and collectors were sold in the conference room. It was so great to see so many wonderful works! Luckily, I’m already satisfied to have seen the beautiful books once. Since I’m not a collector, I don’t necessarily have to own every book personally. But with some exhibits I couldn’t resist. I bought the book ”Beyond the 6th Extinction“ by Shawn Sheehy and Shawn was kind enough to write me a dedication. THANK YOU!
I bought ”What A Mess“ from Keith Allen and he also wrote me a dedication in his book. THANK YOU!
I also got one of Isabel Uriah’s wonderful cards. OLE! OLA! 😀
Rosston Meyer was kind enough to give me two editions of his fantastic books: Necronomicon (signed by Skinner, the book’s illustrator) and Triad. THANK YOU, Rosston!

After the festive dinner, the winners of various awards were announced:
Emerging Engineer Prize: Vanessa Yusuf
Meggendorfer Prize for Artist Books: Colette Fu
Meggendorfer Prize for Best Paper Engineering: Simon Arizpe

Later, I talked for a very long time with various colleagues. I was especially happy to get to know Jie Qi. It turned out that evening that we both worked independently for the magician Marco Tempest and also on another project for a very big company – which was never published. Theoretically, we should have met a few years ago. Well, yes – better late than never 🙂

Even though the official part of the conference was over on Saturday evening, we had fortunately planned our return flight for Monday afternoon.

On Sunday morning (30 September 2018) we arranged to meet some of our colleagues for breakfast. That was very funny again!

From left to right:
Jie Qi, Yoojin Kim, Rosston Meyer, Peter Dahmen, Colette Fu, Maike Biederstädt, Renee Jablow, Isabel Uria, Simon Arizpe, Christopher Helkey

After breakfast we visited – in an even smaller group – a few sights in KC. Isabel drove us (Christopher, Renee, Maike and me) with her rental car through Kansas City:

We visited a toy and miniature museum (unfortunately the time was much too short!!) and later the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts not only from the outside but also from the inside. By chance, the performance was over just the moment we arrived – and so we were allowed to enter the foyer for a short time. The architecture of Moshe Safdie is very impressive!

Of course, you should not leave Kansas City without a real barbecue. And so five of us reserved a table in a barbecue restaurant. I thought it was great! Although it was already late, we sat together for a long time afterwards and talked until far after midnight.

For Monday we had planned the flight home. Fortunately we didn’t have to leave our accommodation until midday. For Monday we had planned the flight home. Fortunately we didn’t have to leave our accommodation until midday. So we could all sleep late.

For a brunch Christopher, Maike and I had arranged to meet Renee again. We were in a ”French“ restaurant that offered various crêpes. Although it wasn’t ”typically American“ at all, we liked it very much.

But then we had to say goodbye. Christopher, Maike and I shared a taxi to the airport – but Christopher had to go to another terminal than us. Christopher arrived back at his home in Los Angeles just a few hours later. For Maike and me it became, because of several cancelled flights, unfortunately still quite an odyssey. Each of us was on the road a whole day longer than planned. It took me 37 hours to get back. Do I want to tell you about it? No, I don’t want to.

It was great to participate in the Movable Book Society Conference 2018! I would be very happy if I could be part of it again next time (in 2020).

Update from 10.12.2018: In my contribution I did not deal equally with all events. You can find a really complete report about the MBS Conference 2018 here in the blog of Ellen G. K. Rubin, also known as The Pop-Up Lady.

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