Hot on the trail of the mysterious Edinburgh paper sculptures, Susannah Radford stumbles across a tale of creativity, books and community spirit in Glasgow.
Surprise and delight: the story of Edinburgh’s mysterious paper sculptures has got it all. Since last March, tiny paper sculptures made from books have been discovered in various cultural institutions across the capital. From a Tyrannosaurus Rex escaping the pages of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World found at the National Museum of Scotland to the exquisite cap and glove found at the Scottish Poetry Library, these ‘tiny gesture[s]’ have garnered huge affection from the interested public. While the sculptures were created in support of ‘libraries, books, words, ideas,’ the identity of the artist who made them remains thrillingly yet suitably unknown.
All of the ten paper sculptures have now been accounted for so you can imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered a paper tree sheltering furniture and a piano displayed in the shop window of Young’s Interesting Books on Shawland’s Skirving Street. Floating above bookshelves, are small air balloons carrying miniature books, such as Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. Flowers spring from the pages of one book and a necklace is draped over another. Could it be true? Has Edinburgh’s mysterious paper sculptor recently moved to Glasgow to spread their magic South side?
“A lot of people,” says Young’s Interesting Book’s owner Barry Young, “have drawn the parallel with the Edinburgh one and asked if it was the same person.” But while Young says the creator of the Edinburgh paper sculptures is “a total secret and [he] couldn’t possibly comment,” he does put me out of my misery and divulges the name of the creator of the paper sculptures in his store.
Thankfully I don’t have to walk far to find out to meet this person. Purveyors of good taste frequenting Shawland’s boutique shop Pierrot et Coco may already have put two and two together: the paper sculptures are the creation of Piero Landi. He used them as part of a shop design. However Landi, who runs Pierrot et Coco with his wife Morven Kerr, assures me he is not the creator of the Edinburgh sculptures. “Actually, I didn’t even know about the whole Edinburgh thing. Someone came in and said ‘is it you?’ And I got accused of it, very awkwardly. It was like ‘no, no, it wasn’t, honestly.’ But I’m not sure she was convinced.”
What ended up a grand design in Pierrot et Coco first started out as books from Young’s Interesting Books. The husband and wife team first ran the successful fashion label Fevered Deviant for five years and Landi says they are “quite creative in our approach to the window, not necessarily using them to place products so much as just create an extension of the feeling in the shop.” They wanted a shop design with books in it. “Barry came to our rescue because I was looking about in charity shops and [the books] were all too expensive really or rubbish looking. And Barry said I can give you lots of books. He provided me with more than I needed, which was great.”
Young, who calls Pierrot et Coco’s window displays ‘fantastic’ says he was “happy enough to give them a bunch of books which they chopped up and mutilated and defiled. Which normally would be anything but the sort of thing I would encourage but most of these books were wrecks anyway. And to turn them into something extraordinary was wonderful.”
Turn them into something extraordinary they did. Those who saw the shop design must have been astounded. Imagine books nailed to the ceiling then flowing down the walls to the window below. A big cloud blowing little air balloons carrying soaps above and the tree and furniture below also being blown around. The whole thing took months to create but Landi says “it all looked really nice, people seemed to really appreciate it.”
While born of necessity, there was still a satisfying relationship between book and design. “It was basically what Barry could provide [that] I had to work with,” Landi says. “But there was like sheet music from Beethoven, books on that and other classical artists. And I made sure that’s where the piano sat and the cello. And the music came out of the books around the cello. There were botanical books that had the flowers. I’m not sure where the tree grew from though; I think that might have just been a case of size.” When compared with the ‘poetree’ of Edinburgh, Landi’s tree is a fraction more functional. I checked in Young’s and his tree grew from a book called Speeches and Toasts, the ‘civic toasts’ chapter to be precise.
This is not the first time Young has lent out books. He lends them out for fashion shoots and only recently lent one to filmmakers in search of a miniature book for a goldfish to read. “Books,” he says, “lend themselves to other window display designs” as they are “one of the few decorative things that pretty much cover every subject. So it’s quite nice to lend out the books sometimes to various people.”
He highlights how a books visual impact is now more important than its text. Books have to have an “intrinsic value in themselves. As opposed to just their text which can be downloaded now, onto kindles or whatever it is. You know a book as an actual object which is desirable or beautiful or unusual or rare or just a little bit bizarre sometimes, that’s what keeps us going and that’s what attracts people to borrow them for different things.”
It’s the first time Landi has used a book to make a sculpture. “It’s nothing I’ve ever done before. I just decided to do it, [it was] something for the window born of books. Everyone’s come in and said you’ve got to do these for me; I really want one of those trees. A woman was even in and said ‘I’ve got a gallery and a website and I could really sell these on my website. Can you produce them for me?’”
Sadly, Landi won’t be producing any more paper sculptures as he and his wife have plenty of other creative pursuits to occupy their time. In addition to the line of children’s wear that Landi and Kerr are creating for their shop, they are also designing a jewellery line, which funnily enough also began their life as books. When gluing stones on book pages Landi found that the text got magnified. “And that gave me the idea for actually producing jewellery just made from your favourite books where you’ve got passages and things all round your necks. Mixed with the Swarovski stones obviously,” he adds with a laugh, “[to] give it a little bit of glamour.”
The book necklaces, like the paper tree, got a lot of attention. “The amount of people [who] have come in and said how much is the necklace in the window? Can you tell me how much that necklace is?” It was hard to convince people it wasn’t a necklace Landi says. “I don’t think anyone believed me because there was the chain dripping over the book.”
Just like a shop design born of books, the relationship between Young’s Interesting Books and Pierrot et Coco is born from a close-knit local community. Both Young and Landi find Shawlands an exciting place. “Shawlands,” says Young “is such a wonderful diverse area. I think it’s probably the most diverse area in Glasgow in terms of the percentage of different ethnic groups. You get all sorts of people here. A lot of artists, a lot of cultural things are going on as well and there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the area to see things get better. There’s a good community spirit, which is a great thing to have.”
Young flies the flag of the independent shop because he believes “it’s the individuality of shops that makes a High Street and a High Street is what makes a community. It’s the High Street that keeps the people in an area which gives them the sense of community spirit, which means that they look after the area, which means they look after each other and people get on better which is vital vitally important thing.”
The paper sculptures, beautiful in themselves, also exemplify this community spirit. Books from Skirving Street were transformed into paper sculptures just up the road in the Abbot Street shop and then travelled the short distance back to Skirving as a thank you gift from Landi to Young.
Shawlands, obviously very well stocked with creativity and imagination, probably has no need for any book sculptures from Edinburgh. Nonetheless Young and I enjoy musing where they could go should the artist decide to share any new sculptures with Glasgow. (This is apart from his shop of course).
“Glasgow,” he says, “is a strange city from a literary point of view, because unlike Edinburgh, I think Glasgow’s literary history is much more modern. Although we do have a literary history stretching back hundreds of years. But in the sense of the success and the sort of well-known authors, it’s really quite a relatively recent thing. I suppose really since Lanark and Alisdair Gray but [it’s] all the modern authors now. So, I suppose, first it would probably be a place like The Ubiquitous Chip up at the West End, one of these restaurants where all the literati hang out.” But Young knows Glasgow well. While he knows that the paper sculptures were found in unusual places in Edinburgh he adds to his list some other rather fitting possibilities. “Places like parks, I think are the places in Glasgow, or pubs or football grounds. It’s a much more down to earth thing possibly in Glasgow than elsewhere.”