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Vojtěch Kubašta's No. 1 Fans in Berlin: Sebastian Koepcke & Thomas Gubig

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(Above, upper right) Graphic and exhibition designers Sebastian Koepcke and Thomas Gubig with Dagmar Kubastovŕ Vrlkjan at the opening of their Berlin Kubašta Exhibition. (Above, bottom right) Sebastian and Thomas' Pop-up Buecher (Pop-Up Books) catalog, available online. (Kubasta exhibition and catalog photos courtesy pop-up-buecher.de.)
 

 
Sebastian showing me the sights — Berlin's historic Brandenburg Gate. 
I've been in the presence of royalty before, in Ravenna's San Vitale.

But coming face-to-face with Queen Nefertiti, one of civilization's iconic images? All I can do is stand there in Berlin's Ägyptisches Museum, the latest admirer of a masterpiece attributed to the royal sculptor Thutmose in whose workshop this famous life-like bust was found.

In the near-by Staatliche Museen zu Berlin or Bode Museum, however, many religious masterpieces bear no artist's signature, their creators' names having been lost to the mists of history.

If only all artworks came with a name. In the Pergamon Museum, the Roman master Hephastion placed a peeling label with his amidst mosaic playful winged cupids and flowering creepers. The museum audio commentary informs us that it shows a growing self-awareness of the artist and the degree with which he identified with his work.

We're grateful that our favorite crčche artist signed his work, and is there a crčche enthusiast who does not instantly recognizable his signature? (See top of page.) Knowing the artist's name means that we can know more about him — perhaps even visit where he lived.

"Thank you for taking us inside Kubašta's home," says Sebastian Koepcke. It's a hot day in Berlin, and we're enjoying a cold refreshment, taking a break from Sebastian's Tour of Berlin. We find shade under the cafe umbrellas by a canal across from Berlin Dom (Berlin Cathedral). Water taxis are ferrying tourists on a river tour of the city as Sebastian and I enjoy a cool refreshment.

"My business partner, Thomas Gubig and I visited Kubašta's home in Prague," Sebastian says, "but we were not able to go in. It was a great moment seeing all that beauty inside his house through your pictures. We wanted to see where this great man lived, in what kind of place. I had my own private picture of Kubašta, and Thomas and I were so sad we couldn't meet him. I wanted to get a feeling of who he was, where he lived, I wanted to see what he saw from his window.

 
Sharing a cool drink and warm conversation about Vojtech Kubasta — Sebastian Koepcke in Berlin. 
 
"It was a pleasant surprise to find his address (that Dagmar gave us) on a busy street. In every other country you'd find a man of his talent behind a high wall, with a garden with a pool. But I was happy to find him — as you said you did — there, on Vltastava Street, a master in his work, but a normal person in his life.

"When I was three or four, it was a great fascination for me to look at Kubasta's books: Der gestiefelte Kater (Puss and Boots); Der Froschking (The Frog King); Rotkäppchen (Little Red Ridinghood).

"Now that I have two young daughters of my own, I love to share my Kubašta books with them, and love to see the same fascination on their faces.

"So I started to collect more books by Kubašta for my daughters, and wanted to share the wonderful universe Kubasta has created for children. And I started thinking that Kubasta would be a great theme for an exhibition.

"It's what Thomas and I do — design exhibitions and graphic and marketing materials. We have great jobs as graphic designers for a toothpaste factory in Dresden, and merchandisers for Putzi, Europe's largest — and oldest — toothpaste for children. We've even created a Putzi children game character a small museum at the factory. We've also written a book. We're graphic designers for a toothpast factory in Dresden, formerly Chlorodont-Werke, the largest in Europe in the 1930s. In 2008 we created a museum of its history in the factory.

"Thomas and I have been working together since 1991 in advertising and exhibitions for museums. So it was natural, when we had our own story — Kubašta — to think about organizing an exhibition.

"We had done so for two well-known living German designers, Günter Schmitz and Horst Geil, and it was a great moment opening their show. It was the first exhibition of their work in their life.

"Unfortunately, for Kubasta's we were too late. And the problem was getting any information at all about the artist. At the last moment, through a contact, we found an antique book dealer in Basel, Switzerland, who was originally from Czechoslovakia.

"He gave us the name of the Pop-Up Lady in New York — who put us in touch with Kubašta's daughter, Dagmar in Canada.

"Dagmar was wonderful, so friendly, and two weeks later we received a parcel from her with Kubasta photographs and her memories for our catalog: The Pop-Up Lady sent us scans of Kubasta ads for his books.

 
 
Two pages from the Pop-up Buecher (Pop-Up Books) Kubasta catalog, which is available for purchase online. (Courtesy Sebastian Koepcke and Thomas Gubig.) 
"Our first Kubasta exhibition opened in Berlin in 2005, at Sumulung Industrielle Gestaltung (Collection of Industrial Design Museum). Hein Koster, the Museum Director, was very supportive, and it was a great show. Our concept had always been to have the show tour, and the next opening was at the Museum Für Druckhunst (Museum for Print Art), in an old print factory in Leipzig.

"We met Dagmar and her husband Nick Vrlkjan for the first time at the opening. It was a great moment for Thomas and myself to have Dagmar and Nick there. It was a great day meeting Dagmar. Of course, she was familiar with most of the books, but others she said she had not seen. We loved hearing her tell stories about her father. 'That's my room!' she said, looking at a page with a clock. 'That's my bed, my clock!' It was such a wonderful friendly evening.

"The next stop for the show was in a Baroque castle, the Schlossmuseum in Bad Pyrmont, a small town near Hannover.

"Then Thomas and I got busy with other projects, and in May, this year, we wer delighted to bring the exhibition to the Faber Museum in Esslingen, a beautiful small town in South Germany. It will be on display until September 13.

"We're now looking to present the show elsewhere, including Japan. We'd also love to present the Kubasta exhibition in Prague, and we've contacted the Czech Embassy in Berlin but there has been no interest. We now have a new Embassy contact, so we're still hopeful.

"I find it so amazing that Kubašta's name is so well-known all over the world — he's a star! — but so unfamiliar in his own country. I was in many old book shops in the Czech Republic asking for Kubasta books and often the reply was, 'Who's Kubasta?'

"Sometimes you can find in Prague his postcards and a few of his pop-up books in a corner — they dodn't know what they've got.

"I've loved Kubašta since I was a child. He game me my first pictures of Fairy Tales. When I think of my favorite stories, I have a picture by Kubašta in my head. And my and Thomas' motivation is simple: in the children's books universe, Kubasta stands alone. He's the only artist with so much variety, quantity, and quality of work that you can mount an exhibition of his work.

"I like his humor, his drawing style — so full of detail and fantasy! Through his books, I see Vojtech Kubasta as a friendly, warm person. Then there's the great fascination with his mechanical books: it's magic when one of his books is open, even more magical when it closes. I always think, 'This delightful pop-up book cannot possibly close!'

"But Kubašta says, 'Yes it can!'"

You'll enjoy Sebastian and Thomas' Web site, Pop-up-buecher.de (Pop-up Books), where you'll find more photos and information from their Kubašta Exhibition.

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