In March 2011, a librarian found a delicately crafted paper sculpture of a tree, ‘growing’ from an old book, on a table in the Scottish Poetry Library.
The artist left no name, but made it clear that this was a gift to the library: It started with your name @ByLeavesWeLive and 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 is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas.
The discovery of the book sculpture gift was shared online by the Scottish Poetry Library, and the idea of such a beautiful object being given secretly by an anonymous and talented artist captured people’s imaginations. News articles began to speculate about the sculpture and its mysterious creator, whilst visitors travelled from afar to see the tree.
Only three months later, the sculptor struck again! - this time in the National Library of Scotland. A book sculpture created from a copy of Ian Rankin’s Exit Music was found – the novel in which a Russian poet is murdered and Inspector John Rebus retires – in the form of a paper gramophone and coffin. The work was a clear commentary on the threats to public libraries in the UK. The caption, on a separate note, read: A gift – in support of Libraries, Books, Words, Ideas…(or against their exit).
Further sculptures came to light during the year, all completely anonymous, and were found at an Edinburgh cinema, the Filmhouse; at the Scottish Storytelling Centre; two at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in the city’s Charlotte Square; at Edinburgh’s Central Library; and another at the Scottish Poetry Library. This eighth sculpture was accompanied by a letter: 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 ten.
This meant that there were two further sculptures – secreted away ready to be found – and nobody knew where they could be. As the hunt commenced, the identity of the artist remained a secret, and still does to this day. All that is known: she is a woman, and she is passionate about the importance of libraries, reading and books. Two final sculptures were finally found in 2011: the ninth at the National Museum of Scotland, and the tenth in the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh’s Lady Stair’s Close.
However, this was not the end of the story and throughout 2011 and 2012 several more sculptures appeared, the first one being a personal gift to Ian Rankin. The next appeared when the sculptures were toured and displayed during the GiftED exhibition in Autumn and Winter 2012. The tour of Scotland culminated in a two-week exhibition at the Scottish Poetry Library, where over 3000 visitors flocked to see the mysterious sculptures. A small box arrived at the Library with an instruction “do not open until 7 December” and, when the date came, a twelfth sculpture of a small girl reading was revealed. Fifty paper flowers were then scattered around Charlotte Square in the summer of 2012, to coincide with the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
The sculptures promoted the importance of reading and learning, and the value of the spaces which enable this: libraries, museums, arts venues. The first Book Week Scotland was initiated by Scottish Book Trust in 2012 and, to coincide with this, the Trust commissioned five special book sculptures. It is these five commissioned sculptures which are being offered for sale by Lyon & Turnbull, with all money raised going to Scottish Book Trust’s fundraising campaign to ensure that everyone in Scotland has equal access to books. Scottish Book Trust writes: Many children are growing up without any access to books or owning their own books at home, and since the pandemic the situation has worsened. Without books, children are missing out and we know the impact of this lasts a lifetime.
The sculptures each represent a classic of Scottish literature: Tam O'Shanter, by Robert Burns; Whisky Galore, by Compton Mackenzie; Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie; Lanark, by Alasdair Gray; and Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Each sculpture was discovered in a different location around the country throughout Book Week Scotland by various members of the public. They all speak of magic, adventure, daring and Scotland’s vital place in the history of world literature.
The artist’s sentiments regarding these five sculptures and their sale reflect their magical theme:
I always felt that the sculptures were a poor attempt to communicate the transformative magic that happens when a book is read. I couldn't be more delighted that by auctioning them off they might be turned into real books...
The artist’s subsequent sculptures, appearing between 2013 and 2016, have all reflected the freeing power of reading, enabling the reader to metaphorically fly away and explore. In 2013, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, thirty bird cages were revealed to be under a tarpaulin in Charlotte Square, each containing a paper bird ready to be released and fly to its new literary home. A sculpture made for the Edinburgh Macmillan Art Show in 2014 was entitled Butterflies on the Move, showing the tiny creatures flying up and out of a book, liberated by the power of the words. The buyer of the work, Dr Colin Mackenzie, toured the sculpture around Scotland and, in collaboration with the artist, asked for public donations of paper butterflies. These butterflies in turn ‘flew back’ to the artist who presented a beautiful sculpture of a child hugging a tree, reading a book and topped with the butterflies at the August 2016 Edinburgh International Book Festival. This was a sculpture created in part by the people of Scotland, demonstrating the empowering gift of reading and the importance of literary spaces. The artist wrote on Twitter in conversation with the BBC: It’s been obvious since the start of the project five years ago that there is a world of people who care about public libraries and universal access to literacy…
The themes of liberation and the freeing power of imagination are reflected in the artist’s Peter Pan sculpture, as Peter beckons Wendy to leap from the top of the book and fly with him towards the moon. Tam O’Shanter’s mad gallop away from the spooky and magical underworld of the graveyard is testimony to the enduring (and sometimes macabre) power of Scottish storytelling, whilst Treasure Island speaks of adventure, journeys and exploration. Books are vital for the development of imagination, self-awareness and achieving a sense of escapism, promoting good mental health and wellbeing. We hope that each sculpture offered for sale can help Scottish Book Trust provide the vital gifts of reading and literature that can change lives.
Scottish Book Trust launched a fundraising campaign as part of their mission to ensure that everyone in Scotland has equal access to books.
Many children are growing up without any access to books or owning their own books at home, and since the pandemic the situation has worsened. Without books, children are missing out and we know the impact of this lasts a lifetime.
Books help families bond, bring joy and comfort, give children a sense of escapism and, importantly, improve their mental health and wellbeing.
The need for Scottish Book Trust’s work has never been greater. The charity has been overwhelmed by demand to reach and support more vulnerable children and families.
Funds raised from the auction of these sculptures will support Scottish Book Trust to deliver more of its life-changing work. Some examples of its programmes include specialist outreach support for young families through Bookbug for the Home, providing tactile books for children with additional support needs, supporting those living with dementia and their carers, and giving books to families through food banks and community hubs.