I have a magical story, a series of wonderful book sculptures have been quietly left with apt and erudite notes in Edinburgh institutions which encourage and promote literature and culture. They are delightful. Each work is a loving crafted masterpiece, taken as whole the series of 10 pieces is an extraordinary gift. The most striking aspect culturally, in an era of self-promoting celebrity and hi-digital speed, is their purity of creation: the combination of anonymity, time dedicated, low-tech hi-prowess, all without financial expectations – demands attention.
The mystery began in the Scottish Poetry library, in March 2011, a sculpture arrived entitled ‘Poetree’ addressed to the library’s twitter account ‘@byleaveswelive’ (how digitically poetic).
the accompanying note read: ‘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’
Like each of the gifts that follow, it contained gifts-within-gifts, layers-within-layers, pages-within-chapters-within- covers. The poetree eggs are lined in gold and contain words for the phrase: A Trace of Wings by Edwin Morgan. Edwin is a Scottish poet and the poem is in praise of… birds.
In June, The National Library in Scotland received it’s gift: A sculpture of a gramophone and a coffin from a copy of Ian Rankin’s Exit Music.
The gifts continued throughout the year, often undiscovered in dusty corners of the building for some time, or tantalising left in high-visibility spots such as the Edinburgh International book festival, on a signing table!
The anonymous crafter revealed her gender (female), but after this piece it was no longer in doubt? you have to love her (meticulous) work. The teabag on the right of the tray, is filled with cut out letters, the tag for which reads “by leaves we live”. The elevated cup, has a stirring of the words: Nothing beats a nice cup of tea (or coffee) and a really good BOOK”, the cupcake on the right adds “except maybe a cake as well”. (Maybe I’ll just light the fire now…)
Themes emerged over the course of the year: identity, mystery, fantasy, comfort, knowledge, benevolence, evolution. These gifts, the desecration of books, echo the power of reading books, their capacity to lead the imagination, nourish the soul and excite the neuron curcuitry.
Is My favourite is T-Rex emerging from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost Worlds?:
I love the tail, from which T-Rex roars forth… from the pages inside:
He’s clearing been eating more than cake, and tiny figurines cling on to the canopies edges fighting for their lives.
Or is my favourite the dragon’s egg? the feathered wing? the erupting cinema screen? the bee gloves? indeed they are all lovely. The mystery rather gripped Edinburgh, and their maker clearly felt compelled to leave a final note, part explanation, part sign-off and deffinitely last laugh – in the poetry library with the final gift.
“Some had wondered who it was…but they would never find her. For though she does make things, this was the first time she dissected books…they seemed fitting. The gift, the place to sit, to look, to wonder, to dream…a tiny gesture in support of special places.”
I have long been a fan of book sculptures, in fact I covet them, they are pretty high up on my ‘present list’ (you know, the long one, with ‘art-deco diamond ring’ at the top and ‘wedgewood cup’ at the bottom). Su Blackwell would be my creator of choice, I love the element of fantasy within each piece which inspires you to dream into it, to look beyond the confines of the book:
I would be charmed by ‘A secret garden’:
And daily wander into the woodland scene below, hand-in-hand, with my daughter:
Su Blackwell says of her work: “Paper has been used for communication since its invention… I employ this delicate, accessible medium and use irreversible, destructive processes to reflect on the precariousness of the world we inhabit and the fragility of our life, dreams and ambitions.”
In the absence of book sculptures to cheer my interior world, I am considering other printed matter, and a home DIY project, along the lines of those crafty people at Design Sponge. The sculptures got me thinking of Georgian print rooms. These were made predominantly between 1750 -1800 by the lady of the house. Prints, decorative frames, swags, garlands, borders were collected, cut out and artfully arranged. The grandest houses called in the experts, but it was also genteel pastime for ladies with spare time, scissors and decorative eye. The great thing, was that is was personal – you suited your prints and decorative style to your interests (could be 2012 then). Further it tended to be an intimate space, or hall area where these schemes occurred. The UK National Trust has some intact examples: Blickling Hall in Norfolk and Uppark in Sussux spring to mind. The example below is the grandest surviving Print Room, developed by Louisa Lennox for Castletown House, Ireland.
Nicola Wingate-Saul restored this and discovered a passion and a talent in the process, she now specialises in this decorative process. She also describes how her successful restoration led to her first commission:
“I was asked by Desmond Guiness to make a Print Room for him at Leixlip Castle. Having agreed, he shut me in the library with a book of engravings of the ceilings of Versailles (which I subsequently discovered to be worth several thousand pounds), my embroidery scissors, my greyhound and Edward James, (the illegitimate son of Edward VII) an early patron of the surrealist artists, who kept me entertained for days and days with reminiscences of Dali, Picasso, Garbo… It was my first Print Room and quite the most enjoyable to make.”
What a treat! dog by your side and Edward James, one of the 20th century’s great eccentrics. Creating something for a quite legendary interior and trail-blazing restoration.
Below is a bedroom decorated by Nicola’s ‘Print Room’, I love the rings and tassels:
A traditional framed image would look like the one above. I think it would be fun to tweak them a little, just like classic toile du Jouy looks great subverted a bit with colourful embroidery, a la Richard Naja:
I want to get the highlighter out, maybe some diamontes and vintage beads and play with the prints and borders a bit. Anyway keep you posted with how I get on: either in the ‘present list’ direction or ‘homecrafts’ arena. Meanwhile I am going to read a book, visit the library or go a a festival.