Those of you who don’t keep up with Edinburgh’s literary world through Twitter may have missed the recent spate of mysterious paper sculptures appearing around the city.
Next to the ‘poetree’ sat a paper egg lined with gold and a scatter of words which, when put together, make “A Trace of Wings” by Edwin Morgan.
Nobody knew where it came from, nor was anyone forthcoming with information in person or online, despite a fair amount of local news coverage.
It looked like this was a one-off, a beautiful and delicate piece of art created by a fan of the Poetry Library. Until, in late June, the National Library of Scotland found themselves the recipient of a similar piece.
A gramophone and a coffin, sculpted from a copy of Ian Rankin’s Exit Music, and again deposited anonymously. The tag in this case read:
This time the sculpture is a complex scene in a paper cinema; punters arrayed on seats watching men and horses coming alive from the screen and charging outwards.
Amongst the audience is a figure with Ian Rankin’s face, clutching a Deuchar’s.
Once again carved from a Rankin novel, they don’t know how long it might have been sitting there unnoticed as it’s quite well hidden. Perhaps the loveliest tag so far:
For @scotstorycenter – 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…..
Nobody knows whether there are more to come and if so, where they might appear. Some say the newly opened National Museum, others suggest the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It’s all a bit exciting!
Having been on display in the Scottish Poetry Library for a few months, the poetree is now kept behind the counter for safety, but if you ask nicely I’m sure they would let you have a look.
The National Library’s gramophone is in a display case near the front door.
The Filmhouse’s cinematic diorama is currently not on display.
The Scottish Storytelling Centre’s dragon is probably going to estivate during the Festivals to avoid any possible manhandling by infant hordes but will surely make a return in the autumn.
UPDATE: The dragon has been moved out of harm’s way but is still visible to the public!
UPDATE 24/08/11: Two more appeared today at the Edinburgh International Book Festival!
One, addressed to @edbookfest (the Book Festival), was left on one of the signing tables in the Bookshop.
The tag on this reads:
To @edbookfest ‘A gift’ This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas…… & festivals xx
It includes a teabag filled with cut out letters, on the tag of which are the words “by leaves we live”. The cup on the top has a swirl of words which read ” Nothing beats a nice cup of tea (or coffee) and a really good BOOK”, and on the ‘tray’ next to the cupcake it says “except maybe a cake as well”.
The other, addressed to @edincityoflit (UNESCO Edinburgh City of Literature), was secreted about their stand in the entrance tent.
The tag reads:
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
Intriguingly, this is crafted from a copy of The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinnerby James Hogg.
This book is not only a favourite of the City of Literature team but is also known to have been an influence on Ian Rankin’s work. So far quite a few of these sculptures have overt links to Mr Rankin, suggesting this is no coincidence. As Ian was due on site later in the day and had not yet met any of these creations face to face, the @EdinCityofLit team introduced him to their new baby.
Former local Guardian beatblogger Michael MacLeod and all round top journo was on the scene to file a swift report. The Book Festival’s blogger also shared with the world, and @edinCityofLit’s Anna has a mention of them…
Guardian article, 24th august 2011
Edinburgh International Book Festival blog post, 24th August 2011
Anna Not Karenina’s blog post
Once the latest additions to the family have found offical homes I will update with further images and information…
Another has appeared in the Central Lending Library on George IV Bridge.
Taking the form of a book with a magnifying glass mounted atop it (made of paper of course!) it was left on a shelf and was unreported for at least a couple of days.
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. No question of the creator’s views on library cuts… The tag then notes, “Words on book – Edwin Morgan”. No talk of Rankin this time!
In the news:
Scotsman article, 30 August 2011
Library blog post, 31 August 2011
A plastic cover has been placed on it and for the time being at least it is on display where it was left.
And here’s some coverage from STV.
The ‘poetree’ is now on display in the reception area of the Scottish Poetry Library.
Which has clearly had the desired effect, as the comments book next to it shows:
The Edinburgh Evening News claims to have discovered the identity of the sculptor. The general view is that We Don’t Want To Know…
“It’s important that a story is not too long ……does not become tedious …….”There was a flurry of excitement when someone at the Scottish Poetry Library spotted this note in their 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….”
A quick dash into the library led to the discovery of another gift.
The tag on this read:
“To @ByLeavesWeLive……. THE GIFTS “Gloves of bee’s ful, cap of the Wren’s Wings…….” Norman McCaig …. maybe sometimes impossible things… In support of LIbraries, Books, Words Ideas….”
And with the suspicious addition in the corner reading 10/10.
So here we have a cap made of a wing.
A wing, of course, made of exquisitely crafted paper feathers.
And with it a pair of paper gloves…
… made in the texture of a bee.
And an explanation!
“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 be- cause 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 shame- lessly 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!
XA wonderful end to a wonderful story and a lovely mention for a humble photographer! But talk of ten sculptures had everyone a-flutter. There were only eight we knew of, what of the remaining two? Could they have been lost? stolen? or worse, thrown away by someone who didn’t realise what they had found?
Mercifully the answer was forthcoming the next day. The National Museum of Scotland had received a gift, found on the plinth under a skeletal stag. A consciencious member of staff had found it and passed it to his supervisor, thinking it might be something more than average lost property. It soon made its way up the chain of command until it came to rest in the Director’s office for safety.
Meanwhile the museum staff were abuzz with the imminent arrival of their millionth visitor since reopening (which was a surprise as that wasn’t really expected until about August 2012) so they didn’t have time to tell the world about it until that had died down.
And so another is unveiled!
A Tyrannosaurus Rex, bursting from the tattered leaves of a book. And what book could it be other than Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World?
The tag here reads:
“For @NtlMuseumsScot A Gift Your friends at @edbookfest suggested you might like this. …. In support of libraries, books, words, ideas and those places that house our treasures……”
And in the corner, 9/10.
Hidden amidst the tattered leaves of the book are tiny men with weapons that probably wouldn’t do much damage to the beast, as its bloodstained jaw seems to prove.
The museum hope to exhibit this as part of the 26 Treasures series.
And what of the last?
Yesterday afternoon staff at the Writer’s Museum found something atop the donations box in the Robert Louis Stevenson room.
A wonderfully atmospheric street scene with what appears to be a silvery moon with wisps of cloud hanging from it. This tag reads:
“@CuratorEMG A Gift “The stories are in the stones” Ian Rankin In support of Libraries, Books, Words, Ideas …… and Writers.”
And the 8/10 in the corner, confirming that we’ve found them all!
The cover says, “the stories are in the stones / Ian Rankin” …
…which is fitting as it has been sculpted from a copy of Ian Rankin’s Hide and Seek.
Inside the book are an array of people with birds on wires and a streetlight…
There are even goings-on visible behind some of the windows, as well as a pentagram scrawled on a wall in red with the signs of the zodiac around it.
Along the front of the scene have been placed the words, “commingled out of Good and evil;” Misha Hoekstra pointed out that this is a line from Jekyll & Hyde, “I have observed that when I wore the semblance of Edward Hyde, none could come near to me at first without a visible misgiving of the flesh. This, as I take it, was because all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil,” and that Ian Rankin has said of Hide & Seek that he was hoping to create an updated, Edinbugh-based version of Stevenson’s story.
The curators are looking into ways to display this piece although it’s possible that it will have to live in a different venue due to considerations of space – the Writer’s Museum is absolutely packed with stuff! They’re terribly happy with it though; apparently they had been hoping to receive one and now feel very lucky to have had one of the last three.
So this seems to be the end of the story. There is talk of organising some sort of exhibition but so far it’s just an idea. Some of the ‘gifts’ are viewable anyway – those in the Scottish Poetry Library, the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Central Library (the gramophone in the National Library seems to have been temporarily displaced). The rest will hopefully find a place in the public eye and I’ll keep an eye on them as I have grown rather attached.
Many thanks to whoever has been crafting and distributing these magical objects, and thanks on behalf of the creator to those who have followed their discovery with such infectious delight.
This is absolutely the best thing I’ve read (that wasn’t fiction) in ages and ages. I am absolutely delighted to think that something this magical is real and still happens in the world.