The first came with a post-it attached which read:
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?)
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.
And soon afterwards, the Filmhouse had a pleasant surprise.
Finally, in early July the Scottish Storytelling Centre found a dragon nesting in a window.
It was around this time that I got involved. At the time I went to a lot of events at the Poetry Library so had some nice shots of their sculpture but it occurred to me that although there had been a few pieces in the press the photos they had taken were very pose-y and newspaper-ey; I hadn't seen any nice images showcasing the sculptures themselves. So taking to Twitter I got in touch with the venues, checked on their availability and went off to document them. I knew that if I just put the photos on Flickr/Facebook/whatever I'd be letting myself in for a stream of people saying "What's this then?!" so instead I wrote a wee photoblog about them. And that's where the story took off...
By the time two more appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival there was a definite buzz around the Edinburgh Twitterati and I had somehow become the official man-who-shoots-the-sculptures. And since I was working on site when they appeared, the recipients - the Book Festival and Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature , seemed to accept that I was the person who should be documenting them.
Then, less than a week later, another appeared in Central Lending Library; by now I felt such pressure to cover these things both for the recipients and the followers of the blog that it precipitated a dash across town within hours of its discovery.
After the flurry of activity in August the real world calmed down but the story was continuing to expand online. The blog got picked up by BoingBoing and Neil Gaiman and between the traffic caused by those two the site it was hosted on started seeing some serious downtime. There was a great deal of discussion about who the artist might be, culminating in the Evening News claiming to know and polling their readers on the question of whether they should reveal it; the answer was a resounding NO, but as it turns out they had the wrong person anyway. And it was around this time that the artist very gently made herself known, anonymously, on Twitter.
And then November was upon us and the last wave of excitement. A note in the visitors book at the Scottish Poetry Library led the staff to look for and find another papery gift on the shelves. With a story attached, which thanked Ian Rankin and me (!) for being a part of it. And on the tag it was numbered 10 of 10.
A hurried anonymous email to the artist confirmed that this and two others had been deposited that day and, since the other venues had not made any announcements, she pointed me in the right directions. One in the Writer's Museum, with an extremely pleased curator who had been following the story of the wee paper beasts and praying for one:
And one in the recently reopened National Museum of Scotland who were in the midst of celebrating their millionth visitor since reopening, which meant some rather frantic emails trying to get access while they were in a media frenzy. As it turned out, the NMS sculpture, featuring a T-Rex , had actually come about because I had said on Twitter a few months previously that I would love to see a paper dinosaur as part of the series.
So that was it. Ten sculptures. Featured on blogs, newspapers and magazines all over the world.
Except for number 11 of 10 a few weeks later. For Ian Rankin. Which, having been delivered to the Edinburgh Bookshop, lives in his house, so it took me three months to get at it.
And then in January the BBC got in on the act, visiting the Scottish Storytelling Centre, National Museum of Scotland and Writers' Museum to make a short piece on the sculptures. You can see it here but don't believe everything they say - the journalist featured talks about the sculptor as a he but a few hours after it was broadcast I received a message simply saying, "I am NOT a he!"
The end of the story? Well no, this is clearly something without an end. Birlinn decided that there should be a book about the sculptures. A tour of Scotland was arranged. Fifty paper flowers were distributed around Charlotte Square during the Book Festival.
Now the sculptures are back in Edinburgh for the last stop on their tour before going back to their homes. And by a happy coincidence the Scottish Book Trust have just announced that there are five new sculptures to be discovered as part of Book Week Scotland. But this is all we can see for now...
Every time it looks like the end of the story something else happens. While the tour is coming to a close (get to the Poetry Library before December 8th!) there are new mysteries to be found, and I can't help but think that she's going to keep on surprising us.
Words by Chris Scott @chrisdonia