The Flower Shop, Part 1

We recently went to see Hugo 3D. Even though it’s supposed to be a children’s movie, I enjoyed it very much. I am a fan of the new 3D technology. It is a visual feast and I am eager to gobble it all up. I found this film particularly engaging because it included so many of my favourite things: Paris, clockwork toys, old books, lost keys, glasshouses, statues, stage sets, trains, a railroad station. I was enchanted with the beautiful broken automaton and its dormant drawing skills. One thing I noticed was that there were very few images of the natural world. Most of the action took place in a busy train station or in interior settings. Even the glasshouses weren’t full of plants: they were being used to make movies in the film industry’s infancy.

There was a flower stall inside the train station; and images of the flower seller pushing a large, heavy cart full of colourful bunches of flowers really caught my eye. Flowers like these are one of the pleasures that sustain the city dweller through a cold, grey winter.

I have been working on a tunnel book depicting an imaginary flower shop. Some years ago or so, during a period in which I was fascinated by bookbinding and book structures, I saw a photo of Carol Barton’s Tunnel Map. From that moment, I just had to make my own tunnel book.

Tunnel books (also called peepshow books) consist of a set of pages bound with two folded concertina strips on each side and viewed through a hole in the cover. Openings in each page allow the viewer to see through the entire book to the back, and images on each page work together to create a dimensional scene inside. This type of book dates from the mid-18th century and was inspired by theatrical stage sets. Traditionally, these books were often created to commemorate special events or sold as souvenirs of tourist attractions. (The term “tunnel book” derives from the fact that many of these books were made to commemorate the building of the tunnel under the Thames River in London in the mid-19th century.) In the United States, tunnel books were made for such attractions as World’s Fairs and the New York Botanical Gardens.

–Wikipedia, ‘Pop-up book’

Peeps into Fairyland

During this same period, I borrowed  from the library a copy of Movable Books: an Illustrated History by Peter Haining. This book, published in 1979, included photographs of tunnel books from Ernest Nister’s Peeps Into Fairy Land. Nister’s book was originally printed in 1896 and first editions are now rare and pricey, but a reproduction of the book is available.

Advertised on the title page as “a panorama picture book of fairy stories,” this collection of six fairy tales told by “King Cole,” including “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Babes in the Wood,” contains six corresponding full-page pop-ups by German paper-engineer Ernest Nister. One of Nister’s contributions to the history of movable books is the technique of displaying multi-layered, three-dimensional scenes. This kind of scene had been developed earlier by Dean and then Tuck, but their constructions had to be lifted up or pulled down manually in order to “pop up.” Nister’s constructions did not require manipulation, since each scene was attached by a tab to the facing page, so when the page was turned, the multiple layers automatically opened out.

Bauman Rare Books

I decided to use Nister’s scene, The Fairies’ Lake, as a model for the panels of my tunnel book-to-be. I did freehand sketches,simplifying the pictures and omitting details. Next, I painted three small panels, all the same size, in watercolour, pen and ink. Then the panels were cut out around the painted parts of the scene. The final step was to insert each panel into a slot in an accordion-pleated and folded piece of sturdy paper. This involved some measuring.

I had to do some research and put in some effort figuring out how to construct a tunnel book. To call this paper structure a “book” might be misleading, since its “pages” cannot be turned, although they can be inserted as pages into a bigger book. The tunnel book has other names (peepshow book, theater book) and close kin (dioramas). The name “tunnel book” may be because of the tunnel under the Thames, or perhaps it is because of its telescopic nature. Come to think of it, the tunnel book could be called the “telescopic book”.

There are many fine artists now working in book arts, making architectural or sculptural forms. Mass-produced pop up books are widely available, including Shakespeare’s Globe: an Interactive Pop Up by Tony Forward. A synopsis for this book reads as follows:

This miniature theater includes a pop-up model of the Globe Theatre, a book about the Globe’s history, design, and legendary performances, 20 press-outs, characters, and two booklets with scenes from 12 plays. Full color. Consumable.
–Powell’s Books

Consumable? Hmmmmm.

Next time, I will post photos of my new tunnel book: “The Flower Shop”.


6 thoughts on “The Flower Shop, Part 1

  1. I can’t wait to see the flower shop book!

    I can see why you like tunnel books, they are very cool. I am sure a certain 7 year old would love to see the swan boat one!


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