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Magical Paper Sculptures From the 'Library Phantom' [Photos]

By amywindsor |

Detail from a sculpture made by the mysterious artist dubbed the "Library Phantom." PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Donia

A mystery has been delighting Edinburgh’s library patrons and literary community since last March, when a paper sculpture of a tree, both whimsical and stunningly intricate, was anonymously placed in the Scottish Poetry Library.

The thrilling mystery of the “Library Phantom”, as dubbed by NPR, spread throughout Edinburgh over the last eight months as ten elaborate and delicate sculptures were secretly placed in many of the city’s libraries, museums and literary community hotspots. The riddle ended, but was not solved, last week when the last of ten enchanting sculptures were found, with the mysterious artist’s farewell attached, “It’s important that a story is not too long ……does not become tedious …….”

In reality, the story couldn’t be further from “tedious”—it is an artful and generous reminder, in a world filled with self-serving publicity stunts, that adventures are out there waiting to be discovered in libraries. All you need do is take a closer look….

Click through the slideshow, which provides a timeline of when and where the sculptures were discovered, and then read on for the story behind these astounding and beautiful little treasures.

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Magical Paper Sculptures From the Library Phantom [Photos]

The Poetree

The first of the anonymous sculptures to be found, it was discovered on a table in the Scottish Poetry Library. It's tag refers to the Patrick Geddes quote that inspired the library's Twitter handle, @byleaveswelive.
Click here for a closer look.

The mystery kicked off when a delicate paper tree sculpture (quickly dubbed the “poetree”) was discovered by staff at the Scottish Poetry Library, without any trace of who had left it or when. The only evidence was a hand-written tag that said:

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?)

The excitement mounted as more sculptures turned up in other Edinburgh libraries, a cinema, and at the Edinburgh Book Festival over the summer. After the book festival, Neil Gaiman and BoingBoing both linked to the mystery on their sites, which created even more of a stir around the affair. The books continued to appear until the final one was spirited into the poetry library near the end of November, ending the mystery where it had begun in March.

Amazingly and inspiringly, an anonymous artist single-handedly managed to creatively translate her love of “libraries, books, words, ideas…” into a whimsical plot to raise awareness for libraries—a labor of love whose magical reverberations are slowly making their way around the world.

The “Banksy of books… Booksy, perhaps,” as The Guardian called the artist, managed to elude identification throughout all the surrounding excitement, and the literati of Edinburgh, despite early buzz and speculation, are satisfied not knowing. Edinburgh’s resident literary paparazzo and photographer of these exquisite creations, Chris Scott, said, “We’ve pretty much come to terms with the anonymity of the artist and every time someone says I WISH WE KNEW they follow it up with an admission that they don’t really.”

Scott has kindly allowed Strollerdery to share his photos of these stunning little masterpieces of paper sculpture that have captivated so many in Scotland. As only three of the ten sculptures are currently on display in Edinburgh, Scott’s photographs are the only way currently available to share in the joy of these delightful treasures.

When asked about the possibility of a show, Scott, said that while there has been discussion of mounting an exhibition since August, nothing yet has come of it. Perhaps, now that all the sculptures have been discovered, an exhibit can come together that will not only provide some closure to the mystery, but can share the magic of the event with a broader audience.

In the meantime, if you are travelling to Edinburgh, you can see two of the sculptures at the Scottish Poetry Library, where they have been drawing in people who have come to see the poetree and hat and gloves for themselves. The Storytelling Center also has it’s charming sculpture of the nesting dragon hatchling on display.

For a full history of the unfolding mystery of the sculptures, Edinburgh’s Central Station blog has thoroughly tracked all the summer’s events. Central Station was the source of much of the information found in the slideshow, as well.

You can find many more photos at Chris Scott’s flickr set devoted to the paper sculptures or his personal blog.

As a fellow lover of libraries and a believer in the power of whimsy, I hope these sculptures inspire some copycat artistic do-gooding. Imagine the delight to be had by children and adults alike, as random literature-based (figuratively and literally) art is discovered at the library. Are you inspired, as well? Or at the very least, inspired to bring your kids to the library today?

[Editor's Note: The photographer Chris Scott was mis-identified as Chris Donia, his actual surname is Scott. ]

Read more of Amy Windsor’s writing at Bitchin’ Wives Club.
Follow Amy on Twitter and Facebook.

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About amywindsor



Amy Windsor is an avid mommy blogger whose blog, Bitchin' Wives Club, was named one of Babble's Top 100 Mom Blogs in 2012. She was a contributor to Babble's Parenting channels.

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3 thoughts on “Magical Paper Sculptures From the 'Library Phantom' [Photos]

  1. Alison says:

    That’s amazing. We are huge lovers of libraries here. <3

  2. Jean Formo says:

    I think I know who it is. Several years ago I saw the Enchanted Princess exhibition at Kensington Palace. With my bookarts background, I wondered who did the marvelous paper and book sculptures at Kensington Palace. It has to be the same person. Today, aided by a link from a Kensington curator’s blog, I visited the artist’s website. In respect for her unbelievable generosity in undertaking this magnificent library project, and to sustain the mystery, I will not mention the name of the artist here. Kudos and gratitude to you, S!!!

    1. amywindsor says:

      @Jean I am such a fan-girl of this artist! Thank you for not spoiling the fun and revealing who you think it is. But I bet it is a huge charge knowing… kind of like figuring out one of those “blind items” on Defamer, only not sleazy! ;)

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