And in the Dragon was a Story: The Edinburgh Book Sculptures

This past Saturday was the launch of the Scottish Tour of the Edinburgh Book Sculptures. Most bibliophiles will know this tale, but if you haven’t heard about it, an anonymous artist gifted libraries, a theatre, book festival tents, and a bookstore around Edinburgh with lovingly crafted sculptures made from books. With them she (all we know about her is that she’s a she) left little notes. A delightful little mystery took place around the city and word spread around the world as ten sculptures appeared, and then a surprise eleventh for Ian Rankin, the author whose books had been used in several of the other sculptures.

I’d read the news articles last year when it spread across the internet, and I was really excited when they came to my library where I used to work. The GiftED tour was arranged by the Scottish Poetry Library and Edinburgh’s UNESCO City of Literature Trust. They’re in Aberdeen until September 6th and then they’ll be travelling to Dundee, Wigtown, Glasgow, Dunfermline, and then back to the Scottish Poetry Library.

The first thing that struck me about the sculptures from afar when I snuck in was that they seemed so small and innocuous. I couldn’t get a clear look at them until after the launch, which was great. Two writers, one with the awesome name of Rapunzel Wizard with dreadlocks to the back of his knees read short, humourous poems, some of which had props. In the photo to the left he was finding anagrams to various officious terms. I particularly enjoyed his distilling of his favourite books into haiku. Martin Walsh, the other writer, didn’t have quite as flashy a style, but his work had a quiet humour and complexity that I also enjoyed.

I expected to enjoy seeing them in person. What I definitely didn’t expect was to be moved to tears by them. I had to blink rapidly. Seeing all ten at once in their displays was almost overwhelming. So much time, care, and love had been spent on these, and to not take credit and gift them to the world to show how important reading and words and stories are is simply incredible. Whoever you are, mysterious artist, thank you. Onto the photos. Unfortunately my camera phone does not do them justice. For proper photos and for more of the photos of how they fit together, you can also look at Chris Scott’s photos on his blog Central Station.

Worth mentioning is that a book about the sculptures has been published, entitled Gifted – The Tale of 10 Mysterious Book Sculptures Gifted to the City of Word and Ideas. While the editors of the book have no idea who the artist is, they were able to communicate with her via a pseudonymous email address, and in it is a note from the artist and a lovingly illustration on how to make a “poetree” as well as a map of Edinburgh as the end paper. It’s a really beautiful book and £10, and for my it was a tenner well-spent. Some of the proceeds go to helping libraries.

When the curator of the tour introduced the exhibit, she also said that just that morning she had received a very exctiting call from Edinburgh–the anonymous book artist had struck again, leaving 50 paper flowers with a quote by Orson Welles scattered about the Ediburgh book festival. So maybe each year she (or another artist) will gift us with more little paper wonders to remind us of the power of libraries, books, words, ideas…

Photo: The Edinburgh Reporter

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