1 November 2021 admin-Cheryl

Book Sculptures in Edinburgh

Scottish Poetry library's 'poetree', a tree crafted from books

Have you heard about the book sculptures in Edinburgh? Over a number of months in 2011, an anonymous artist (we know that it is a woman) gifted to the city (first UNESCO World City of Literature) some incredibly crafted sculptures made from books. They were all delivered surreptitiously to literary locations around the city – the first to the Scottish Poetry Library, but also over time to the Edinburgh Writers’ Museum, the National Library, and the marquees of the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Many pay tribute to Edinburgh writers – Ian Rankin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, James Hogg and Norman MacCaig. The story of the mysterious sculptures grew bigger and bigger on the internet, with everyone wondering when and where the next might appear. There were 10 of them, plus a bonus extra given to Rankin. Each one came with a tag, paying tribute to libraries, book events and the power of words and the imagination. A very few people know who the sculptor is, but have respected her wish to remain anonymous.

I love the 9th one, delivered to the National Library of Scotland. It was inspired by Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, a book in which three explorers find a high plateau still inhabited by dinosaurs in the South American jungles. It is that novel which forms the ‘base’ of the sculpture, and a paper Tyrannosaurus Rex is bursting out of the pages, while tiny men with weapons lurk in the foliage. It is fabulous!

No. 11 pays tribute to Ian Rankin’s The Impossible Dead and features Rankin himself as a skeleton, enjoying a sociable time with a friend while sitting on his book and drinking his favourite beer, Deuchars.

Another is a ‘poetree’ (shown above), another is made from Rankin’s Hide and Seek and depicts an Old Town tenement and celebrates Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, while another illustrates Norman MacCaig’s beautiful poem Gifts with an exquisite feather cap, and a tiny bee perched on a delicate paper glove.

You can learn more about the book sculptures in a nicely illustrated book called Gifted: The Tale of Ten Mysterious Book Sculptures Gifted to the City of Words and Ideas, published by Polygon, or view an album of the sculptures on Flickr here.

What do you think of old books being used to create art? Have you seen any of these sculptures in person? Let me know in a comment.

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Featured image credit- Scottish Poetry library’s ‘poetree’, a tree crafted from books, Anonymous artist; photographer has permission to use images. Chris Scott – https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisdonia/6003326550, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37965849
Body image credit- National Museum of Scotland, Tyrannosaurus Rex coming out the pages of “The Lost World”, by the Edinburgh born author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,

Comments (8)

  1. Mirko G. S.

    Hello, there were more other book sculptures released by the author: 50 paper flowers (2011); 5 sculptures for the Book Week Scotland (I didn’t find where to see the last 2), the 5 sculptures-trophy for the finders and another one left in the Poetry Library (2012); 2 left in libraries (2013); “Butterflies in the Move” (2014); the last one (2016). Most of them are not specified in Wikipedia where they are now and I’d like to take a picture of them (I’m planning to vist Edinburgh soon). Can anybody help me? Many thanks in advance, Mirko.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I’m sorry, but I dn’t know where they are now. Isn’t it wonderful that they were created and that they celebrate books.

      • Mirko G. S.

        It’s twice, since there are unknown people left a bush sculpture and some wooden carved benches in the shape of animals and I think the authors were inspired by the “Book-Banksy”.

  2. Gaby Meares

    I was lucky enough to see the sculpture left in the Edinburgh Writers’ Museum. It was a highlight of my time in Edinburgh. Absolutely stunning.

  3. Anneke

    Discovered this book art some time ago. Some examples are truly creative and splendid: https://arteffecting.blogspot.com/2014/04/books-beautiful-books.html

    but I remain in two minds about cutting up books. Destroying a book to make a work of art?

    Then again, considering that libraries these days make space for computers and ‘student spaces’ by chucking old books in a skip (as we discovered behind the Canterbury University library), book art is infinitely preferable!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Wow, the book looks amazing!
      Yes, I am also in two minds about using a book as the basis for art and thereby destroying anyone’s ability to read from it, but I guess books do have to be culled, or get tattered, and if the art works encourage people to read, then that’s a good thing.

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