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Carel Chapman Movable Book Collection Offers Whimsical Exhibit

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Carel Chapman was first charmed by pop-up books about 20 years ago. That’s how she describes the feeling she got when she noticed a stack of three-dimensional books in an area bookstore and took one in her hands: charmed. And that is what people will be when they view a selection of her 2,000-and-growing collection now on display at the UNH Museum.

There is a sweetness to the books--Mary’s lamb in the classroom; the old woman in the shoe surrounded by all her children; kids looking for their brown spaniel. And a sense of whimsy--books with pop-up shoes and baseball stadiums and Star Wars figures and sailing ships.

“I started with just a couple and set them out around the house at the holidays,” Chapman says. “Then I started adding and adding and adding and, before I knew it, ended up with this big collection.”

So big that she had her basement dehumidified to assure those books stored there wouldn’t turn musty. The basement was for the overflow; every single bookcase in her house was full, to the point, she says, that she could almost hear the house sigh when she began culling the shelves for books to donate to the UNH Museum.

“This is a new direction for us,” says Bill Ross, Special Collections librarian. “When she first approached us, I had to kind of think for a minute about the fit. But the great thing is that it is a new direction. It opens us up to a broader audience.”

The notion of pop-up books dates back to the 13th century when Majorcan writer and philosopher Ramon Llull took pieces of paper inscribed with letters and symbols and laid them out in a circle on top of a circle to demonstrate his theories.

Later, the medical profession began using the concept in books on anatomy. The movable flaps revealed parts of the human body. Then, at some point in the 18th century, pop-up books were made for entertainment.

“People tend to think of pop-up books as being for kids but this collection has a quite a range of subjects—from politics to shoes to ballparks,” Ross says. “There’s wide appeal.”

That appeal has driven prices up, Chapman says. A book she paid $50 for now sells for $600; a copy of the Andy Warhol book that she bought for $100 is selling online for $1,500. And yet, instead of selling her collection, Chapman chose to donate it to the UNH Museum because, she says, a university is where the books belong.

“I want other people to be able to enjoy them,” Chapman says. “In my heart what I love best is that every single one is handmade. That’s what really appeals to me. In this day, in these times, when everything is mass-produced, I love that every single book has to be done by hand.”

The Carel Chapman Movable Book Collection is on exhibit at the UNH Museum through Dec. 16.

The museum is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday noon to 4 p.m.