A magical gift

November 25th is the start of Book Week Scotland, and the beginning of a week celebrating not only Scottish literature, but Scotland’s important position in the world literary scene. There are hundreds of events going on all over Scotland to celebrate books, reading and libraries, but one in particular caught my eye.

Last year I was lucky enough to catch the Gifted exhibition at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. The Mitchell Library in Glasgow is one of those remarkable buildings funded by philanthropy. The building rises with a dome crested by a sculpture representing Literature, and is a glorious legacy of a time when literature, libraries and free public access to the same were celebrated, and so it seemed fitting to see the Gifted Exhibition there.

In March 2011 the librarian at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh found a gift; a tree sprouting from a book sheltering a gilded egg which had cracked open to reveal words, a Poetree. The tag on the tree declared it to be a gift, a gift of devotion to libraries and words. And it was not the only gift. The next was found in June 2011 in the National Library of Scotland. This one was an elegant representation of the untimely threat of the death of literature and art in the form of a gilded coffin, sliding out from under the word-covered trumpet of a gramophone.

Over the next months more works of art appeared in strategic places all across Edinburgh – all institutions that celebrated books, libraries and reading. The gifts continued (and still continue), each as beautiful as the last and each with a handwritten tag stating the artist’s support of books and libraries. The lavish magic of the gifts rolled on – tiny horses gallop from stadiums built of pages, a dragon nestles in a broken egg that lies in a nest of elegantly chosen words, a tea cup spirals with a charming quote, rising above a perfect cake, a small child huddles in the pages of good book supported by a quote spawned from the rights of all children to a free education, a magnifying glass concentrates us on the words that inspire us to “want it bright”, Jekyll and Hyde lurk and emerge from shadowy pages beneath a silvered moon, a dinosaur roars and tears his way forward battling tiny assailants, and a pair of word-littered wings lie next to soft brown gloves where a bee is frozen in the moment.

Each of these exquisite gifts inspires a sense of wonder and joy that is unsurpassed and demonstrates a unique thing in our modern and busy world – time. Time is trapped here and held in these delightful dioramas so that the more time we spend looking, the more time we indulge, the more we see.

The artist has chosen to remain anonymous and I am grateful for this fact and I hope that she never reveals her identity. There is so little magic in the world and the existence of these gifts is a little brush with it and I have no desire to ever know how it was done – it is enough to know that it was.

The Gifted Exhibition has now moved on from Mitchell Library, but the library itself is a remarkable building and well worth a visit.

Now a selection of the sculptures have been gathered together again to celebrate Book Week Scotland, and the Scottish Book Trust are displaying them at the National Library of Scotland. They will be on display at the library until November 2014.

This tour coincided with the publication of a book about the sculptures, Gifted – The Tale of 10 Mysterious Book Sculptures Gifted to the City of Word and Ideas, published by Birlinn and available at all good independent bookshops and the display venues.
These photographs are all my own.