Speaking candidly to the large crowd that had gathered Nov. 12 for the grand opening of the world’s first gallery dedicated to paper engineered books, artist Matthew Reinhart admitted he was at a low point in 2014. The Great Recession had financially taken its toll on the New York Times bestselling author and the book industry, and he was considering pursuing a different career.
Judging from the autograph line that night that snaked through the Virginia B. Gardner Fine Arts Pavilion after Reinhart’s speech, it was obvious that many were glad he decided to continue creating pop-up books. What helped him make up his mind, he said, and the reason why he was in town, was the celebration of The University of Findlay Mazza Museum’s new Laiho Gallery. It is now exhibiting many of his cherished original works that pay homage to iconic pop culture tales such as “Cinderella” and “Star Wars,” and educate readers of all ages about topics such as dinosaurs.
Built in existing museum space, the 400-square-foot gallery was funded by docent Ginny Laiho, an avid fan and studier of pop-ups, and her husband Rikhard Laiho. At the opening ceremony, Ginny told her husband the gallery was the best gift he’d ever given her.
But a chance meeting at a Toledo Public Library event was what sparked the idea. Mazza Museum Director Ben Sapp and the late Jerry Mallett, who helped found the museum and was serving as its curator, approached Reinhart, whose works were being exhibited at the library, to ask him if he’d be willing to donate one of his original pieces to the museum. “Only one?” Sapp said Reinhart responded.
Come to find out, Reinhart had a warehouse full of works, a veritable career closet of items that represented his progression on each project, from start to finish. They were just stored away, Reinhart lamented, unseen and unappreciated by others. He wondered, would the Mazza Museum be interested in a permanent loan that would include several of those pieces?
Months later, a white-knuckled Sapp was maneuvering a moving van through the streets of New York City to pick up more than 350 original works of art from book that Reinhart had created, along with more than 250 pop-up books from the artist’s collection that date back to 1960.
Reinhart said the gallery project has reinvigorated him. The interest and excitement that those at the Mazza Museum have shown toward his work and their commitment to creating a home that will allow others to appreciate it in new ways, “helped push me forward” career-wise, Reinhart told the crowd. Now, he said he barely has time to catch his breath as he works on recreating the stories of “Frozen” and “Legos” in 3-D.
Reinhart’s gallery opening involvement coincided with the museum’s fall Weekend Conference, an annual event that draws artists, illustrators, authors and educators from around the nation for presentations, inspirational activities, conversation and book signings. This year’s conference, which also included Reinhart, drew more than 350 participants from 17 states.