Meet Ellen Rubin (aka The Popuplady) and Her Collection of 9,000 Pop-Up Books

It’s unusual to encounter a pop-up book for sale in a thrift store.

Their enthusiastic child owners tend to work them so hard, that eventually even sentimental value is trashed.

Stuck slider bars and torn flaps scotch the element of surprise.

Scenes that once sprang to crisp attention can barely manage a flaccid 45° angle.

One good yank and Cinderella’s coach gives way forever, leaving an unsightly crust of dried glue.

Their natural tendency toward obsolescence only serves to make author Ellen G. K. Rubin’s international collection of more than 9000 pop-up and moveable books all the more astonishing.

The Popuplady—an honorific she sports with pride—would like to correct three commonly held beliefs about the objects of her highly specialized expertise:

  1. They are not a recent phenomenon. One item in her collection dates back to 1547.
  2. They were not originally designed for use by children (as a 1933 flip book with photo illustrations on how women can become better sexual partners would seem to indicate.)
  3. They were once conceived of as excellent educational tools in such weighty subjects as mathematics, astronomy, medicine... and, as mentioned above, the boudoir.

A Yale trained physician’s assistant, she found that her hobby generated much warmer interest at social events than her daily toil in the area of bone marrow transplants.

And while paper engineering may not be not brain surgery, it does require high levels of artistry and technical prowess. It galls Rubin that until recently, paper engineers went uncredited on the books they had animated:

Paper engineers are the artists who take the illustrations and make them move. They are puppetmasters, but they hand the strings to us, the reader.

As seen in Atlas Obscura’s video, above, Rubin’s collection includes a moving postage stamp, a number of wheel-shaped volvelles, and a one-of-a-kind elephant-themed mini-book her friend, paper engineer, Edward H. Hutchins, created from elephant dung paper she found on safari.

She has curated or served as consultant for a number of pop-up exhibitions at venues including the Brooklyn Public Library, the Biennes Center of the Literary Arts and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. See a few more examples from her collection, which were displayed as part of the latter’s Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn exhibition here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How to Build a Custom Handcrafted Acoustic Guitar from Start to Finish: The Process Revealed in a Fascinating Documentary

Every serious guitarist learns to set up, repair, and maybe even customize their own instruments. It’s economical and fun and gives players insight into how and why their instruments sound the way they do, and how to make them sound better. Some amateur luthiers will even build their own instruments, at least those not famous enough to have custom guitars built for them by famous makers, an honor—maybe not unlike a basketball player having their own shoes—that tells the world they’re at the top of the game.

Everyone else labors away in basements, garages, and woodworking shops, leaning heavily on advice from master luthiers like Dan Erlewine. If you’re one of those lucky enough to have the space, tools, and know-how to make your own guitars, then the video above from Montreal-based master builder Michael Greenfield of Greenfield Guitars is for you. It shows every step in the process of his custom built acoustic guitars, and along the way shows you how you can build your own.

Electric guitars derive their sound from magnetic pickups, which can be affixed to everything from oil cans to plexiglass. Materials and workmanship can majorly affect tone and sustain, but not nearly to the degree they do in an acoustic guitar, in which the sound comes entirely from the instrument itself—from its shape, size, bracing style, wood selection, and even, believe it or not, the finish. The shaping, carving, and joining of each of the guitar’s structural parts—sides, top, back, and neck—makes its own unique contribution to the finished instrument's tone.

Greenfield’s documentary isn’t only for the amateur—or professional, for that matter—luthier. It’s also an all-around fascinating look at how fine, hand-crafted acoustic guitars get made, of interest to anyone from woodworkers to sound engineers to music fans in general. Most consumer-grade guitars get an assembly-line factory build, turned out by the thousands to keep superstores like Guitar Center stocked. Master builders like Greenfield devote considerable time and attention to every individual instrument—the process documented here for a single guitar, he tells us, took place over a period of four to five months.

Want to hear the finished product? Skip ahead to 57:47 for a demonstration by Canadian Celtic-folk singer Lizzy Hoyt. Learn more about Michael Greenfield’s handcrafted guitars at

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How the Radical Buildings of the Bauhaus Revolutionized Architecture: A Short Introduction

When Germany lost World War I, it also lost its monarchy. The constitution for the new postwar German state was written and adopted in the city of Weimar, giving it the unofficial name of the Weimar Republic. Free of monarchical censorship, the Weimar Republic saw, among other upheavals, the floodgates open for artistic experimentation in all areas of life. One of the most influential aesthetic movements of the era began in Weimar, where the Great Big Story short above opens. As the city gave birth to the Weimar Republic, it also gave birth to the Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus, literally "building house," was a school in two senses, both a movement and an actual institution. The style it advocated, according to the video's narrator, "looked to strip buildings from unnecessary ornament and build the foundation of what is called modern architecture." It was at Weimar University in 1919 that architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus, and his office still stands there as a testament to the power of "clean, simple designs fit for the everyday life." We also see the first official Bauhaus building, Georg Muche's Haus am Horn of 1923, and Gropius' Bauhaus Dessau of 1925, which "amazed the world with its steel-frame construction and asymmetrical plan."

You can learn more about the Bauhaus' principles in the video above, a chapter of an Open University series on design movements. As an educational institution, the Bauhaus "offered foundation training in many art and design disciplines," including mass production, seeking to "develop students who could unify art with craft while embracing new technology." Bauhaus thinkers believed that "good design required simplicity and geometric purity," which led to works of graphic design, furniture, and especially architecture that looked then like radical, sometimes heretical departures from tradition — but which to their creators represented the future.

"Nothing dates faster than people's fantasies about the future," art critic Robert Hughes once said, but somehow the fruits of the Bauhaus still look as modern as they ever did. That holds true even now that the influence of the Bauhaus manifests in countless ways in various realms of art and design, though it had already made itself globally felt when the school moved to Berlin in 1932. By that time, of course, Germany had another regime change coming, one that would denounce the Bauhaus as a branch of "degenerate art" spreading the disease of "cosmopolitan modernism." The Gestapo shut it down in 1933, but thanks to the efforts of emigrants like Gropius, Hannes Meyer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, each of whom once led the school, the Bauhaus would live on.

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32,000+ Bauhaus Art Objects Made Available Online by Harvard Museum Website

Bauhaus, Modernism & Other Design Movements Explained by New Animated Video Series

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Behold the Art-o-Mat: Vintage Cigarette Vending Machines Get Repurposed & Dispense Works of Art

It’s a well known fact that anyone who’s quitting smoking will need to find something to occupy their hands.

Many experts suggest holding a pencil or another vaguely-cigarette-shaped object.

Others prescribe busy work—cracking nuts and peeling oranges.

Hardcore cases are advised to keep those paws busy with a hobby such as painting or woodworking.

But from where we sit, the most spiritually rewarding, symbolic activity for someone in this tender situation would be creating a tiny artwork prototype to sell in an Art-o-Mat®, one of over 100 vintage cigarette vending machines specifically repurposed to dispense art.

Located primarily in the US, the machines are the brainchild of artist Clark Whittington, who loaded the first one with black & white, block-mounted photos for a 1997 solo show in a Winston-Salem cafe.

These days, there are a hundred or so Art-o-Mats, stocked with the work of artists both professional and amateur, who have successfully navigated the submission process.

A variety of mediums is represented—painting, sculpture, fine art prints, jewelry, assemblages, cut paper, and tiny bound books.

Worthington encourages would-be participants to avoid the ease of mass production in favor of unique items that bear evidence of the human hand:

The vending process is only the beginning of your Art-o-Mat® art. Once purchased and two steps away from the machine, your work is solely a reflection of you and your art. Many pieces have been carried around the globe. So, think of approaches that do not convey “a Sunday afternoon at the copy shop” and consider ways that your art will be appreciated for years to come.

The guidelines are understandably strict with regard to dimensions. Wouldn’t want to kill the blind box thrill by jamming a vintage vending machine’s inner workings.

Edibles, magnets, balloons, glitter, confetti, and anything processed alongside peanuts are verboten materials.

A certain popular decoupage medium is another no-no, as it adheres to the mandated protective wrap.

And just as cigarettes carry sternly worded warnings from the Surgeon General, artists are advised to include a label if their submission could be considered unsuitable for underage collectors.

If you need a hand to walk you through the process, have a look at crafter Shannon Greene’s video, above.

Greene became enthralled with the Art-o-Mat experience on a heavily documented trip to Las Vegas, when she put $5 in the Cosmopolitan Hotel’s machine, and received a box of string and painted canvas scrap bookmarks created by Kelsey Huckaby.

(Witness artist Huckaby treating herself to one of her own creations from an Austin, Texas Art-o-Mat on her birthday, below, to see a machine in action. Particularly recommended for those who came of age after these once-standard fixtures were banned from the lobbies of bars and diners.)

Other repurposed machines in the Art-o-Mat stable include the zippy red number in Ocala, Florida’s Appleton Museum of Art, a cool blue customer residing in Stanford University’s Lantana House, and a 6-knob model that periodically pops up in various arts-friendly New York City venues.

As the jolly and self-deprecating crafter Greene observes, at $5 a “yank,” no one is getting rich off this project, though the artists get 50% of the proceeds.

It’s also worth noting that these original artworks cost less than a pack of cigarettes in all but six states.

We agree with Greene that the experience more than justifies the price. Whatever art one winds up with is but added value.

Greene does not regret the considerable labor that went into the 100 tiny journals covered in retired billboard vinyl she was required to crank out after her prototypes were greenlit.

To determine whether or not you’re prepared to do the time, have a peek at Katharine Miele’s labor-intensive process, below. Even though the artist’s contact information is included along with every Art-o-Mat surprise, there’s no guarantee that she’ll hear back from anyone who wound up with one of the geometric chair linocuts she spent a week making.

Other Art-o-Mat artists, like Susan Rossiter, have figured out how to play by the rules while also realizing a bit of return beyond the Pippi Longstocking-like satisfaction of creating a nifty experience for random strangers. The machines are stocked with originals of her tiny multi-media chicken portraits, and she sells prints on her website.

Or perhaps, you, like mononymous physicist Colleen, find a meditative pleasure in the act of creation. To date, she’s painted 1150 cigarette-pack-sized blocks for inclusion in the machines.

Still game? Get started with an Art-o-Mat prototype kit for $19.99 here.

(As Greene joyfully points out, it comes with such goodies as a little journal, a pencil, and an official Art-o-Mat eraser.)

Take inspiration - or dream about what $5 might get you - in the collector’s show and tell, above.

Feeling flush and far from the nearest Art-o-Mat location?  Support the project by dropping a Benjamin on an Art-o-Carton containing 10 tiny artworks, custom selected in response to a short, personality-based questionnaire.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Modernist Birdhouses Inspired by Bauhaus, Frank Lloyd Wright and Joseph Eichler

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. - Frank Lloyd Wright

Is there a design geek lurking among your fine feathered friends?

Some chickadee or finch who values clean lines over the fripperies of the gilded cage?

Or perhaps you’re a bird lover who’s loathe to junk up your mid-century modernist view by hanging a folksy miniature saltbox from a branch outside the kitchen window....

California-based cabinetmaker Douglas Barnhard’s Bauhaus birdhouses offer a minimalist solution.

No word on the interiors, but the exteriors are gorgeous, with additional inspiration coming from the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Joseph Eichler.

Barnhard, who studied architecture briefly, repurposes walnut, bamboo, teak, and mahogany in his designs, which extend to dog beds, breadboxes, and planters.

His birdhouses feature living walls and green roofs planted with succulents.

Some have tiny longboards propped on their decks, a reflection of the time Barnhard spent in Kauai.

Surfin’ Bird!

Is it wishful thinking to believe it’s only a matter of time ’til tiny wetsuits and empty Fosters and Pacificos start festooning the rails?

Browse Barnhard’s birdhouses here and follow him on Instagram to get a peek at custom orders, many for customers residing in the sorts of homes he recreates for the birds.

Related Content:

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Download Original Bauhaus Books & Journals for Free: Gropius, Klee, Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy & More

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her solo show Nurse!, in which one of Shakespeare’s best loved female characters hits the lecture circuit to set the record straight premieres in June at The Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Doc Martens Boots Now Come Adorned with Traditional Japanese Art

In wake of a recent prom cheongsam dust up, it remains to be seen whether Doc Martens’ special edition Eastern Art shoes and boots will be regarded as a misstep.

Dr. Martens' Artist Series paid tribute to Western heavy hitters like Hieronymus BoschWilliam Hogarth, JMW Turner, and William Blake.

Those eye-catching kicks may have inspired more than a few fashion-conscious punks to delve into art history, but what will consumers—and more importantly activists on the alert for cultural appropriation—make of the Eastern Art line?

The company website describes the inaugural design as:

a new homage to traditional Japanese art with a fresh, contemporary … spin. Featuring detailed hand-drawn paintings, the art is digitally printed on a textured leather designed to emulate traditional Japanese parchment, while gold-tone eyelets and studding complete the look.

One wonders what led the footwear giant to go with a mishmash “inspired by” approach, when there are so many wonderful Edo period artists who merit a boot of their own?

Katsushika Hokusai’s The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife (see here) would make for an unforgettable toe cap…

Kitagawa Utamaro could shod heels and ankles with the floating world.

Tawaraya Sōtatsu’s work would easily transfer from screen to shoe.

Thus far, the lone complaints have centered on the pain of breaking in the new boots, a badge of honor among longtime wearers of the company’s best-selling 1460 Pascal style.

Asia Trend reports that Doc Martens has two shops in Japan, with plans to open more.

If you’re inclined to stomp around in a pair of Dr. Martens 1460 Pascal Eastern Art boots or 1461 Oxfords, best place your order soon, as these special editions have a way of selling out quickly.

via MyModernMet

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Braille Neue: A New Version of Braille That Can Be Simultaneously Read by the Sighted and the Blind

Photo via Kosuke Takahashi

To those of us who've never had reason to learn it, the Braille alphabet can have an appealingly retro-futuristic look, not least because Braille signage in America seems most often installed in pre-2000s public buildings. But it must smack of the past to many of the visually impaired as well, who these days have a host of ever higher-tech reading devices available to them (thanks to which, of course, they can read sites like this one). And though public support for producing materials in Braille exists, the educational programs needed to spread Braille literacy in the first place have fewer champions. Braille itself, perhaps, needs an upgrade for the 21st century.

Kosuke Takahashi may be just the graphic designer to provide that upgrade. He's come up with Braille Neue, "a universal typeface that combines braille with existing characters. This typeface communicates to both the sighted and blind people in the same space." He has, in other words, designed a readable alphabet that allows for the overlaying of English with the corresponding raised Braille dots, keeping both legible at a glance — or at a touch, as the case may be. Other designers have tried their hand at the same project, but unlike Takahashi, none of their alphabets support phonetic Japanese characters as well. "Our aim is to use this universal typeset for [the] Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics 2020 to create a truly universal space where anyone can access information," says Takahashi's Braille Neue page.

Photo via Kosuke Takahashi

Based on the existing Helvetica Neue font, Braille Neue — whose designer, according to My Modern Met, "is still experimenting with cost-effective printing and is refining the font prior to final release" — has the potential to spread not just awareness but literacy of Braille, given that it essentially shows sighted non-Braille readers a key every time they read it. As any non-Japanese person who has lived in Takahashi's native land knows, even if you start with no idea of how to read a character in an unknown writing system, you'll start to get a sense of it almost automatically if you see it often enough in context with your own. They'll also know that if any country can implement retrofuturistic design in a way that fascinates the world, it's Japan.

via Colossal/My Modern Met

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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