Tuesday 14 July 2020


Another fragment of childhood regained!

For my eleventh birthday, sixty years ago, our next door neighbour, Miss Turner (to me, ‘Aunty Phyl’) gave me one of the best-ever presents of my childhood: a copy of Christopher Columbus + Genuensis + Santa Maria (Westminster Books, 1960).

A gigantic book (well, to a youngster, 13” x 9” inches was pretty big!) on heavy board with cloth hinges, it had a moveable ship’s steering wheel on the front cover revealing, as you turned it, a map of the world at the time of Columbus’ celebrated voyage of 1492.

Inside were illustrations and an eight-page history lesson…

And then, if you opened the final fold in the book –– Ta-da!! –– up popped a spectacular tableau of Columbus’ fleet: The Santa Maria (with rigging – of a sort!), The Pinta and The Nina.

It was the most exciting book I’d ever seen! I loved pop-ups and this was, without doubt, the most decidedly pop-upiest pop-up!

Several years on, I came home from school to find that my ever-generous Mother (eager to encourage her fanciful son to “put away childish things”) had given away my beloved book to a worthless cousin and that was farewell to Columbus!

But now I have regained this treasure – well, not exactly because this is just a 1992 reprint, first editions now selling (in various states of repair) for several hundred pounds each! (“Please note that, Mother – if you can hear me – you gave away several hundred pounds!”) Otherwise it's just as I remember it, although I note the text has been revised and, I think, undergone a degree of political correction!

Having (in a manner of speaking) got the book back, it has set me off on a trail to discover more about the creator this wonderful book. His signature was on the front cover, although I doubt I even noticed it as a kid –– Kubašta...

As I now know, Vojtěch Kubašta (1914-1992), was a Czech architect and artist. Born in Vienna and growing up in Prague, Vojtěch showed early artistic promise and although his ambition was to be an artist, his father wanted him to study law. When the young man continued to pursue his interest in art, his father eventually compromised by agreeing that Vojtěch could train as an architect.

Kubašta studied at Polytech University in Prague, graduating in 1938 with a degree in architecture and civil engineering, although within two years he was working as a commercial artist. In 1948 the communist Czech government nationalised the publishing industry and Kubašta created three-dimensional advertising materials for Czech exports. 

His first pop-up book, Little Red Riding Hood, was published in 1956 by to the Prague-based, state-owned publishing house, ARTIA. Many other fairy-tale, nursery-rhyme and children’s classics titles followed (some 200 translated into almost 40 languages) including Snow White, The Flying Trunk, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland and many others well as a number of Christmas nativity scenes and especially elaborate pop-ups featuring tableau such as Noah’s Ark, circus and jungle scenes and books devoted to Marco Polo and (my volume) Christopher Columbus. 

In the 1960s he created uncredited art for pop-ups of Disney films such as Bambi, 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book and The Aristocats – several of which I also once owned.

It is way too late in life now to start collecting the work of Vojtěch Kubašta, but I'm very happy to have Columbus home again from the sea and I'm content to  check out online the many other examples of his fantastical work – of which these are but a sample…



1 comment:

Servetus said...

Very neat book, and interesting post!