Monday 17 December 2012


Edinburgh's reputation as a major centre of culture is well known. It is UNESCO's first City of Literature, home to the world's largest book festival and performing arts festival, with more listed buildings than anywhere in Britain. 

Left, statue of the poet Robert Fergusson – said to have been an important influence on Rabbie Burns - outside Canongate Kirk. (If he looks awfully young, it's because the poor thing died at just 24). Right, The People's Story Museum on Canongate.

As a historical centre of the Enlightenment, it was nicknamed 'Athens of the North'. Did you know that five of Britain's seven ancient universities are in Scotland?

The library of New College, Edinburgh University's school of Divinity, where John Knox pontificates in the quadrangle

Here at the Scottish Poetry Library is an exhibition illustrating the story of an amazing tribute by one artist to all those who keep these cultural institutions alive …

In the course of 2011, a series of intricate and beautiful paper sculptures were discovered in various Edinburgh museums and libraries, left there as gifts by an anonymous artist ….

The first, found one day in March on the desk of the Scottish Poetry Library, is the poetree (above). Like the others it is made out of the pages of a book and dedicated to the "support of libraries, books, words, ideas".

The poetree was mounted on a book and accompanied by a gilded paper egg with a poem lining, and a tag addressed to @byleaveswelive, the library's Twitter account.

Three months later the National Library of Scotland found themselves gifted with a similar sculpture, a gramaphone and a coffin (not shown below), sculpted from a copy of Ian Rankin's Exit Music ...

More sculptures gradually appeared ... this teacup (below) was found on a signing table at the Edinburgh Book Festival.  It includes a teabag filled with cut out letters,  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 a ‘tray’ next to an intricate cupcake “except maybe a cake as well”.

And so they continued ... this delicate dragon nesting on paper leaves was found on a window-sill in the Scottish Storytelling Centre ...

... and this, dedicated to UNESCO Edinburgh City of Literature, titled "LOST (albeit in a good book)", sculpted from a copy of James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

Staff at the Writer's Museum discovered this street scene under a silvery moon, crafted in the opened-out spine of a copy of Ian Rankin's Hide and Seek

and one of my favourites - a pair of paper gloves made in the texture of a bee ...

... accompanied by a cap made of a wing of tiny feathers ...

As the mystery deepened with each of the ten sculptures that gradually appeared, so has curiosity about the identity of the artist. All that is known to date is that she is a woman. With the announcement of this exhibition of her sculptures in the Scottish Poetry Library, she contributed via an anonymous email address her thoughts and motives, explaining that at the heart of the project is 

"a woman, who had been a girl, whose life would have been less rich had she been unable to wander freely into libraries, art galleries and museums. A woman who, now all grown, still wants access to these places and yes, wants them for her children ..."

You can read more about the mystery sculptures here and find the book Gifted here.

All photos my own. 


  1. Thank you, Karen, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing the heartwarming story and the images of these truly wondrous sculptures with us. I almost stopped breathing while reading and scrolling and getting lost in your pictures.

  2. Extraordinary!
    Thank you so much for gifting us with such fine photos of the work of this witty artist. She obviously enjoys mystifying as much as we all enjoy being mystified. Edinburgh must truly be an amazing place to inspire such gestures, and to welcome them.

    Everything in the post is wonderful --- perhaps with the exception of the pontificating John Knox. I found him annoying in his larger-than-life manifestation in Geneva. He's at least as irritating here. The juxtaposition of self-righteousness and self-effacingness is instructive.

  3. Beautiful photographs Karen of incrediblly intricate sculptures, skillfully crafted and very generously and cleverly gifted by a grateful woman. Remarkable!

  4. Dear Karen, thank you so very much for introducing me to these mysterious, intriguing and beautiful works of art that have one by one surfaced in the fabulous City of Edinburgh. How I would love to see that exhibit myself. I would hope that the artist's identity will remain a mystery.

    (You do know how much I love both reading and Edinburgh. Have I mentioned that I am also a huge Ian Rankin fan?)

    Best wishes to you. xo

  5. I am in love with everything here!!!!!!

  6. Wow Karen, enchanting....the sculptures and the story around them give new meaning to the word,"magical." They seem as if they are created from the very air into which words disappear. How very lovely, thank you xx.

  7. These are the most extraordinary pieces of ART I have seen quite for a wile! Simply special, individual and certainly unique!
    You always find beautiful and interesting things, Karen! Not to mention the wonderful images!
    Thank you very much to share this with all of us.


Related Posts with Thumbnails