January 27, 2022

Rare sculptures by the ‘Bookish Banksy’ are up for auction


It all began back in March 2011 when staff at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh noticed a stunning paper sculpture made from an old book had mysteriously appeared on a table.  The anonymous artist tagged it with a gift label praising the library’s work, 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.”

This was just the start. Over the course of the year, ten further paper sculptures were secretly placed in venues across Edinburgh, including the National Library of Scotland, the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish Storytelling Centre, each with personalised labels advocating for libraries, literacy, and the arts.

After attracting media buzz and a dedicated following, the works of art were eventually displayed together and taken on tour across Scotland. The artist, dubbed the “Bookish Banksy” even published a book in 2012 entitled Gifted, but still did not reveal much personal information within, except to she was:

“a woman, who had been a girl, whose life would have been less rich had she been unable to wander freely into libraries, art galleries and museums. A woman who, now all grown, still wants access to these places and yes, wants them for her children…”

The Scottish Book Trust decided to approach the artist and commission five special sculptures for the inaugural Book Week Scotland celebrations in autumn 2012. Each artwork was inspired by a classic of Scottish literature: Tam O’Shanter by Robert Burns; Whisky Galore, by Compton Mackenzie; Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie; Lanark, by Alasdair Gray; and Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. You can see images of the magical sculptures here on the Guardian website. Each was hidden in a secret location across Scotland with clues as to how to find them released to the public, rewarding the first person to find each with their own paper sculpture trophy.

Now the sculptures are going to be auctioned off, all the proceeds helping The Scottish Book Trust in its ambition to make books available to all. Marc Lambert, CEO of Scottish Book Trust, said in a press release:

“Many children are growing up without access to books or owning their own books at home, and since the pandemic the situation has worsened. Without books, children are missing out and we know the impact of this lasts a lifetime.

“The works featured in these incredible creations all speak of magic, adventure, daring and Scotland’s vital place in the history of world literature.

“The auction is part of a major and long term fundraising campaign launched late last year. Over Christmas, this focused on giving books to families in need through food banks, local authorities and other charities.”

The auction has the full support of the artist, who said:

“I always felt that the sculptures were a poor attempt to communicate the transformative magic that happens when a book is read.

“I couldn’t be more delighted that by auctioning them off, they might be turned into real books.”

The auction is being handled by Lyon & Turnbull and the sculptures are available to view by appointment at their Edinburgh sale room in Broughton Place. Cathy Marsden, a specialist in rare books at Lyon & Turnbull, who has organised the sale, said:

“Books are essential for the development of imagination, self-awareness and giving a sense of escapism, all of which promote good mental health and well-being.

“We hope that each sculpture offered for sale can help Scottish Book Trust provide the gifts of reading and literature which can change lives.”

If you fancy bidding, starting bids are set at £800 with a guide price of £1,000 – £1,500 per sculpture with the online auction happening between 25 January and 1 February.



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.