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.

Guardian article, 3rd March 2011.

One day in March, staff at the Scottish Poetry Library came across a wonderful creation, left anonymously on a table in the library. Carved from paper, mounted on a book and with a tag addressed to @byleaveswelive – the library’s Twitter account – reading:

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….. a gesture (poetic maybe?)

Mysterious paper sculptures
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.

The mysterious paper tree
Nobody knew where it came from, nor was anyone forthcoming with information in person or online, despite a fair amount of local news coverage.

The mysterious paper tree
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.

Mysterious paper sculptures
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:

For @natlibscot – A gift in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….. (& against their exit)

Mysterious paper sculptures
And soon afterwards, the Filmhouse had a pleasant surprise!

Guardian article, 30th June 2011.

Mysterious paper sculptures
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.

Mysterious paper sculptures
The tag?

For @filmhouse – A gift in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….. and all things *magic*

Amongst the audience is a figure with Ian Rankin’s face, clutching a Deuchar’s.

Mysterious paper sculptures
Finally (so far), in early July the Scottish Storytelling Centre found a dragon nesting in a window.

Scotsman article, 11th July 2011.

Mysterious paper sculptures
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…..

Mysterious paper sculptures
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!

Paper dragon
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.

Mysterious paper sculptures at the Book Festival
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”.

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2011
Edinburgh International Book Festival 2011

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2011

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2011

The other, addressed to @edincityoflit (UNESCO Edinburgh City of Literature), was secreted about their stand in the entrance tent.

Mysterious paper sculptures at the Book Festival
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.

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2011
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.

@EdinCityofLit paper sculpture, modelled by @beathhigh
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…

UPDATE 30/08/11

Another has appeared in the Central Lending Library on George IV Bridge.

Paper sculpture: Central Library
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.

Paper sculpture: Central Library

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!

Paper sculture: Central Library
Paper sculture: Central Library

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.

Paper sculture: Central Library
And here’s some coverage from STV.

UPDATE 16/09/11:

The ‘poetree’ is now on display in the reception area of the Scottish Poetry Library.

Poetree update
Which has clearly had the desired effect, as the comments book next to it shows:

Poetree update
UPDATE 20/09/11

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:

Paper sculptures - the end!

“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.

Paper sculptures - the end!
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

And with the suspicious addition in the corner reading 10/10.

Paper sculptures - the end!
So here we have a cap made of a wing.

Paper sculptures - the end!
A wing, of course, made of exquisitely crafted paper feathers.

Paper sculptures - the end!
And with it a pair of paper gloves…

Paper sculptures - the end!
… made in the texture of a bee.

Paper sculptures - the end!
And an explanation!

Paper sculptures - the end!

“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

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!

A 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!

Paper sculptures - 9 of 10
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?

Paper sculptures - 9 of 10
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.

Paper sculptures - 9 of 10
Paper sculptures - 9 of 10

Paper sculptures - 9 of 10The 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.

Paper sculptures - 8 of 10
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

And the 8/10 in the corner, confirming that we’ve found them all!

Paper sculptures - 8 of 10
The cover says, “the stories are in the stones / Ian Rankin” …

Paper sculptures - 8 of 10
…which is fitting as it has been sculpted from a copy of Ian Rankin’s Hide and Seek.

Paper sculptures - 8 of 10
Inside the book are an array of people with birds on wires and a streetlight…

Paper sculptures - 8 of 10
Paper sculptures - 8 of 10
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.

Paper Sculptures - 8 of 10
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.

Paper sculptures - 8 of 10
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.

Saturday 17th December

A mysterious new Twitter account called “a book for xmas” has appeared and is tweeting @ various recipients of sculptures and others involved.

The tweets read “In support of libraries, books, words, ideas and wishing you a magical xmas” and link to a video on Vimeo:

So far those mentioned are: @byleaveswelive, @CuratorEMG, @NatLibScot, @MichaelMacLeod1 (journalist who wrote up the story extensively on the Guardian), @TalesOfOneCity, @NtlMuseumsScot, @EdinBookshop, @HughesPeg (formerly of @byleaveswelive), @Edinburgh_CC, @ScotStoryCentre, @EdBookFest, @EdinCityofLit, @AnnaNotKarenina (formerly of @EdinCityofLit), @Filmhouse, and apparently @chrisdonia would have if I hadn’t noticed and remarked upon it already…

One of the best things about the paper sculptures is that everyone who sees them, even online, gets excited and wants to share the joy.

And so last week the BBC were in town for a day, visiting the Scottish Storytelling Centre, National Museum of Scotland and Writers’ Museum to make a short piece on them. Since they didn’t have time to get around every venue the rest are represented by some of the pictures seen here.

You can see it here.

This quickly took up residence in their Most Popular section, in the top 5 for ‘Shared’ and ‘Video/Audio’. Because everyone loves them!

Small note though, I’m not sure who the journalist featured has been talking to but since we’re fairly certain the anonymous artist is a woman I suspect they’ve got it wrong…

We were all so excited about the final sculptures that the bonus one rather slipped by…

On 25 November 2011 Ian Rankin got in touch with the Edinburgh Bookshop and said that he was expecting a parcel to be delivered and asked if they could let him know when it arrived.

When the parcel arrived the writing on it seemed familiar. A quick text later and Ian arrived to open it. Sure enough, there was another fabulous papery delight, marked 11/10!

The tag reads:

For @Beathhigh A Gift
“…. something in us never dies” (R. Burns 1790)
In support of those who turn ideas
into words, words into books ……
& of course books into libraries.”

Paper sculpture  11 of 10
A pair of skeletons perched on a coffin lid, clearly having a good time drinking, smoking and listening to music. By their feet is a crate of bottles and next to them is a turntable and a record sleeve reading “THE IMPOSSIBLE DEAD / IAN RANKIN / SOME SECRETS NEVER DIE”

Paper sculpture  11 of 10
The coffin lid reads “R.I.P. 13/10/11″ which is the publishing date of The Impossible Dead.

Paper sculpture  11 of 10
In other news, the planned exhibition of the sculptures is on track, to be held in the Scottish Poetry Library….


Take a look at more suggested blogs by artists here.