Robert Sabuda's pop-up books are artistic and architectural marvels, fascinating young and old alike. How does he do it?


Growing up in rural Michigan, Robert Sabuda had a favorite story: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In the fourth grade, he wrote, directed, and starred in his own school production of the tale, playing the Scarecrow, his favorite character. It's fitting, since Sabuda's other fascination was drawing back the curtain to unveil the internal workings of things like clocks, radios, and the few hardcover pop-up books his family owned.

There was, however, a problem. He could never get the clocks and radios back together. But the pop-ups - books of jokes, classic stories retold, and dinosaurs - were different. Those he could dissect and reassemble with precision.

"I was always fascinated with movement, the how and the why," he says. His mother, a secretary at a local Ford Motors plant and a dance teacher, would bring home used manila folders so her son could practice creating pop-ups as an eight-year-old. Eventually, he fashioned a crude pop-up book of - you guessed it - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Sabuda left Pinckney, Michigan, to study art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. After graduation, he supported himself as a graphic artist, working on coloring books (including some based on Rambo and other movie characters), and as a package designer, creating boxes for women's undergarments. He also began illustrating children's books, sometimes creating intricate linoleum block prints that were assembled like puzzles.

But Sabuda remained enchanted by paper. His work with packaging, using card stock in three dimensions, brought him back to the pop-up books of his youth. He wanted to do something different, something that would set him apart as an artist.

So he decided to create a Christmas alphabet book with pop-ups for each letter - 26 problems to be solved. "It was a lot of painful trial and error," he says.