This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….

On the last course we learned that Edinburgh is the first UNESCO city of literature. Another thing we know about Scotland’s capital is that the city is full of mysteries. What happens if we combine those two facts? We get the chance of hearing more about the mysterious book sculptures. Today, we’ll wander through the Old Tow and visit some of those sculptures. And in-between I’ll tell you some theories about who might have made them.

​​​​​​By Kim Laura Kühne

This great mystery started in March 2011 when the first sculpture was found in the Scottish Poetry Library, where it is still on display. With it there was a message on a tag saying:
“It started with your name @ByLeavesWeLive & became a tree… 
… We know that a Library is so much more than a building full of  books … a book is so much more than pages full of words…
This for you in support of Libraries, books, words, ideas ….  a gesture (poetic maybe!?)

The used book is unknown, but in the broken egg, there were individual words put together from the poem “A Trace of Wings” by Edwin Morgan.

The Poetree was followed by 9 other book sculptures. All gifted to different cultural venues of Edinburgh. We still don’t know who created the sculptures but there are some theories about it.

One theory is: It was all invented by the Edinburgh tourist board to get more people to visit the city.

The fourth sculpture was found at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, and it’s still on display there. The sculpture is made from a copy of Ian Rankin’s book, Knots and Crosses.  The message on the tag says: 
“For @scotstorycentre – A gift in support of libraries, books, works, ideas….. Once upon a time there was a book and in the book was a nest and in the nest was an egg and in the egg was a dragon and in the dragon was a story…..”

Another theory is: Ian Ranking, a very famous Edinburgh author, is mentioned in a lot of the sculptures. Some people think it was him or that he is involved for publicity reasons.

The fifth and the sixth book sculpture were both found at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2011. The fifth one shows a tray with a cup of tea on a cake stand, a cupcake and a teabag. If you have a closer look you can notice some sentences. It says on the top of the tea: 
“Nothing beats a nice cup of tea (or coffee) and a really good BOOK” and next to the cupcake on the tray: “except maybe a cake as well”. Another thing is written on the tag of the tea bag, which says: “by leaves we live”, which is the twitter name of the Scottish Poetry Library.

The used book is unknown and the tag on the sculpture says:
“To @edbookfest ‘A gift’ This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas…… & festivals xx”

The sixth sculpture is a child sitting under a tree. I It is made from an Everyman’s Library edition of The Private Memories and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James HoggThe tag says: “To @edincityoflit ‘A gift’ LOST (albeit in a good book) This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas…. “No infant has the power of deciding….. by what circumstances (they) shall be surrounded.. Robert Owen.
Both sculptures are on display in the Central Library.

A third theory is: A journalist from a local newspaper says she knows who the artist is. She says she has spoken to the man and believes he is the person responsible. She says she won’t publish his name because it will destroy the fun of the mystery.

Sculpture number seven was found in August 2011 as well, but at the Central Library where it is now on display. The sculpture is a magnifying glass on a stand on top of an old book. The used book is unknown, but the words on the book are from Edwin Morgan, which is mentioned on the tag. Some words on the book are also shown in the lens of the magnifying glass: “When I go in I want it bright, I want to catch whatever is there in full sight”Written on the tag is:
“For Central Library ‘A Gift’ 
@Edinburgh_CC This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas…. Libraries are expansive”. The word ‘expensive’ has had the E crossed out and replaced with an A.

A fourth theory is: It is a woman artist who loves books and wants to support cultural institutions and places.

The tenth and final book sculpture was found in November before number eight and nine. It was in the Scottish Poetry Library, where the first sculpture appeared. The staff figured out about the sculpture because of a note in the guest book:  “Hopefully next time I’ll be able to linger longer – I’ve left a little something for you near Women’s Anthologies X. In support of Libraries, Books, Words and Ideas….”
And there it was, a cap made of paper feathers and a pair of gloves with bees. The tag with the sculpture was written on both sides. It describes the inspiration for the sculptures with the quote from the 
poem “Gifts” by Scottish poet Norman MacCaig: “To @ByLeavesWeLive……. The gifts ‘Gloves of bee’s fur, cap of the Wren’s Wings…….’ Norman McCaig …. maybe sometimes impossible things… In support of Libraries, Books, Words Ideas….” and “10/10”.

Along with the sculpture there was also the following longer note:
“It’s important that a story is not too long ……does not become tedious ……. ‘You need to know when to end a story,’ she thought. Often a good story ends where it begins. This would mean a return to the Poetry Library. The very place where she had left the first of the ten. Back to those who had loved that little tree, and so encouraged her to try again …….and again. Some had wondered who it was, leaving these small strange objects. Some even thought it was a ‘he’! ……. As if! Others looked among Book Artists, rather good ones actually……. But they would never find her there. For though she does make things, this was the first time she had dissected books and had used them simply because they seemed fitting…. Most however chose not to know….. which was the point really. The gift, the place to sit, to look, to wonder, to dream….. of the impossible maybe……. A tiny gesture in support of the special places…. So, here, she will end this story, in a special place … A Poetry Library …. where they are well used to ‘anon.’ But before exiting …a few mentions. There could be more, because we have all colluded to make this work……. Just a few though.

  • the twitter community who in some strange way gave rise to the idea in the first place
  • @chrisdonia who gave the story a place, a shape and some great pictures
  • and not least @Beathhigh whose books and reputation have been shamelessly utilised in the making of a mystery …….

…… But hold on. Someone’s left behind a pair of gloves and a cap……….? Cheers Edinburgh It’s been fun! X”

What happened to sculpture number eight and nine? Both were found one day after the final one.
Another day later they found an eleventh sculpture even though the artist said the series consisted of 10 sculptures. The eleventh one was addressed to Ian Rankin.

Almost a year later the artist was back. She left fifty paper flower sculptures at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, each with the Oscar Wilde quote … freedom, books, flowers and the moon” and on the backside of the tag “A Gift For You” and a limited edition number of /50.

In November 2012 it was announced that the artist had been contacted via an anonymous email account and had agreed to create five more sculptures for  Book Week Scotland. The sculptures were hidden around Scotland, the finder of it had to forward it to a literary institution. However, each finder would get another small sculpture as a prize.

In November 2012 there was another gift for the Scottish Poetry Library. It’s a girl sitting under a tree, wearing a crown and reading a book. This is constructed on the book A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. The open pages show the poem “To My Mother”. In the tree are the words, “You in a garden green” and “With me were king and”, and on the girl’s crown is the word “Queen”. On the trunk of the tree are the words, “Were hunter, soldier, tar” and the inside of the small book reads, “And all the thousand things that children are”. Some bunting from the tree read “But time, which none can bind, While flowing fast away, leaves love behind.” All those lines are from Stevenson’s poem “To Willie And Henrietta”. The tag belonging to the sculpture reads: ” …. For the Love of Books. Every ending marks a new beginning.” You can find the sculpture in the Scottish Poetry Library.

And then guess what, in May 2013 the Scottish Poetry Library got another sculpture. Three blue paper eggs in a paper nest in a cardboard birdhouse. The tag simply read “Preparing to Fly 1/3 In support of libraries, words, books, ideas…..x” Two more sculptures followed in this series.

In 2014 as part of the Macmillan Art Exhibition “Inspired”, another sculpture appeared. An open book out of which butterflies flew out – “Butterflies on the move”. The sculpture was auctioned and bought by the Mackenzie family, owners of Hi-Fi Corner and the Movie Rooms. They decided to tour this sculpture so that a wider audience could see it. During this tour, the artist wanted the public to create paper butterflies and send them in till 31 July 2015.

It turned out the artist used the butterflies for the final sculpture “The butterfly tree and lost child”. This sculpture is 6’6′ high tree with butterflies as leaves. This final sculpture appeared at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August 2016. The sculpture is now on display in the Central Library.

We still don’t know who the artist is. All we know she is definitely a woman. What do you think about the book sculptures? Any ideas who the artist might be? Share your thoughts with us.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top