When Kell Black, an Austin Peay State University professor of art, was 5 years old, his father brought him a present from the New York World’s Fair. The gift contained a kit on how to make a medieval village out of paper, and one evening, Black and his father spent hours cutting and gluing together pieces, creating a three-dimensional little town on their kitchen table.
Today, Black is one of the pre-eminent paper engineers in the country. He published a book last year, “Paper Chess,” which allowed readers to build their own chess sets by making paper chess pieces designed by Black. Following that book’s success, the APSU professor is now going back to his roots, but on a grander scale. Rather than a small village, he’s giving the public the chance to build one of the greatest cities in the world.
Black’s new book, “Paper New York: Build Your Own Big Apple,” was recently published by Universe Press and is available now in stores for $19.95. The book offers a three-dimensional tour through New York, allowing readers to build three-dimensional, die-cut models of 20 of the city’s iconic images.
“What sold the publisher was in addition to all the greats like the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, my editor also wanted me to include little non-architectural descriptions of the city,” Black said. “Added extras. She’s in the UK (United Kingdom) and she suggested a stretch limousine. I said, ‘That’s not very New York. What’s New York is a hot dog cart.’ What really sold the publishers on the book was my choice of the hot dog cart.”
The tricky part about creating paper models of New York City is that many of its landmarks and iconic features, such as that hot dog cart or the Guggenheim Museum, are rather complicated from a design standpoint. With that in mind, Black set himself three rules when engineering his models – simplify, simplify, simplify.
“Make them easy to build,” he said. “I designed each one three or four times. I’d design it first with say 12 pieces. Then I’d say, ‘Ok, design it again, get it down to nine pieces.’ Then get it down to six pieces. How can I make these simple and direct? It became a sort of intellectual design exercise.”
The pieces in the book are themselves little works of art. They aren’t literal replications of New York, but rather dream-like remembrances and idealizations of the city.
“They’re evocations,” Black said. “I had visited all these places. I said, ‘Let me just close my eyes and do a quick sketch. What are the five things that I remember from every one?’ That’s how I came up with these.”
Black’s previous book, “Paper Chess,” is also still available in bookstores and online at amazon.com. And Black said if “Paper New York” proves successful, he has ideas for other cities as well.
For more information on the books or on Black’s experience as a paper engineer, contact the APSU Department of Art at 221-7333.