Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Last work of mystery paper sculptor unveiled

Butterfly tree paper sculpture Image copyright Chris Scott
Image caption The sculptor said The Butterfly Tree will be her last work

For the past five years, intricate sculptures crafted from the pages of books have been appearing around Edinburgh.

Throughout this time, the artist has opted to remain anonymous, only revealing her gender, despite the sculptures receiving international attention.

This year, a final, collaborative work was unveiled at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Standing at 2m (6ft 6in) tall, it takes the shape of a tree, the leaves formed of butterflies, and a child clutching the trunk with a book in hand.

The public was invited by the artist to contribute their own paper butterflies to the sculpture, resulting in donations from the UK, Spain, Germany, Greece and the US.

Speaking to BBC Scotland via Twitter, where she goes by the name Freetofly, the sculptor said: "It's been obvious since the start of the project five years ago that there is a world of people who care about public libraries and universal access to literacy.

"The collaboration was a way of us joining our voices together.

"I'm pretty sure this is the final piece. I meant to end it after the 10th, but there was always a really good reason to keep going and make one more. Enough though now. More than enough maybe!"

Image copyright Chris Scott
Image caption Paper butterflies were sent from contributors all over the world

The first of what would become a series of mystery sculptures - a paper tree nicknamed The Poetree - was found by staff in the Scottish Poetry Library in March 2011.

A further 10 were discovered over the course of that year, their location always connected to literature: libraries, bookshops and museums. Attached to each creation was a note, many of them reading "a gift in support of libraries, book, words and ideas".

The eleventh sculpture was delivered to an independent bookshop in Edinburgh, addressed to Scots author Ian Rankin.

In a 2015 interview, conducted by email to preserve anonymity, the woman said: "I didn't have a plan when I left the pieces. I chose places I love. I made works that I thought suited them, added tags with what I suppose is my mission statement, and placed them in situ."

Image caption The Butterflies sculpture was donated to the charity Macmillan Cancer Support and sold by auction

In August 2014, a sculpture was covertly donated to the Macmillan Cancer Support Arts Exhibition, and put up for auction. The work was bought by the Mackenzie family from Edinburgh.

Dr Colin Mackenzie, concluding he couldn't "sit and admire it all day", decided to take the work on a not-for-profit tour of Scotland to raise awareness of the art.

During the tour, he said the artist made it known she was happy to do one final sculpture, and Dr Mackenzie then became the postal address for the paper butterflies.

Speaking to BBC Scotland at the Edinburgh Book Festival, he said: "I share a tremendous sadness with many about this being the last paper sculpture, but it's part of the story, and part of the art.

"The mystery of the artist is a fantastic story, and she'll leave a legacy of generosity. Not everyone is in it for themselves."

Image copyright Chris Scott
Image caption A sculpture for Book Week Scotland inspired by Alasdair Gray's Lanark

To the artist, the end of her project seems to be of less importance than the message shared.

She said: "I'm okay about it ending. I've always wanted the attention to be on the message really, that libraries are important resources, and reading matters.

"Having a building free to enter that is outside your home resourced and expertly staffed confers on us all a certain status - that we are valued.

"The fight for libraries continues. Maybe I'll devise a new way of shouting about it rather than with paper and glue."

Image caption The words read: "Nothing beats a nice cup of tea (or coffee) and a really good BOOK"

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