VCU Libraries Gallery

Cut and Fold: Paper Engineering in Special Collections and Archives

An endlessly malleable medium, paper can be transformed from a flat sheet to an expressive dimensional form. As vehicles of communication and creative expression, zines, books, artists’ books, and unique three-dimensional objects display a range of paper engineering techniques from simple singular cuts to complex scaffolds of folds. The term “paper engineering” encompasses the art and design of pop-ups, moveable books, and folded book structures. While commonly associated with children’s pop-up books, paper engineering dates back to the 13th century and was developed to illustrate subjects such as time, astronomy, and anatomy that were difficult to visualize. Today, artists and artisans employ the same techniques and methods to create innovative bookworks that can be read as sequential narratives, viewed in-the-round as sculptures, or experienced as kinetic objects. 

Cut and Fold: Paper Engineering in the Collection introduces basic paper book structures, provides do-it-yourself instructions, and highlights examples of paper engineering from VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives. The exhibition includes items from VCU’s nationally significant book art collection, which includes over 4,000 works of art that reference or utilize the form of the book. Also featured are titles donated by Betty Tisinger, emeritus professor of the School of the Arts, who gave approximately 1,000 moveable books dating from the late 19th century to the present to VCU Libraries. 

If you would like to examine additional examples of paper engineering from Special Collections and Archives, please visit our reading room on the 4th floor of James Branch Cabell Library or contact us at or 804-828-1108.  

Learn more about book art at VCU Libraries: