The day was cold, but a paper cup of coffee warmed Asher Payne's hands enough that he lingered a moment at Broad Street's Book Tavern to consider its window display.
The winter scene features an old fireplace mantel propped up against a side wall. A row of books is shelved atop it, and several open books are strewn below. "Smoke" billows from the fireplace -- hundreds of torn yellowed pages rolled up into little scrolls, twirling to the ceiling.
"It could mean the warmth of the holidays is coming from the fireplace," said Payne, who was visiting from Athens, Ga. "Or, maybe it's saying we should burn books. It's cool though."
Downtown Augusta merchants, like most stores, decorate for the holidays. But because many stores are owner-operated, the displays trend more toward the personal and eclectic.
This year, Flowers Xpress drenched its window with a shower of lights and snowflakes. Vintage Ooolee, a vintage clothing shop, erected a rotating aluminum Christmas tree and decorated it with olive-, silver- and cranberry-colored metallic ornaments.
Book Tavern owner David Hutchison said his wife, Gabi, came up with the idea of a book-smoke sculpture. They had seen a similar display in Winter Park, Fla.
Gabi Hutchison and store clerk Katie McGuire spent the Wednesday before Thanksgiving shaping and hanging chicken wire and rolling up old pages.
"It was incredibly time-consuming," David Hutchison said. "They spent from noon to 10 p.m. working on it."
The display has elicited more comments than any other window design the Hutchisons have ever had. Many ask what the sculpture means. It's a question that frustrates Gabi Hutchison a little.
"My wife's a collage artist, so she enjoys structure, shapes, textures and colors and how they interrelate to create a visually appealing design," David Hutchison said. "But people tend to want to see a meaning in a work of art."
He began making answers up. The sculpture was the Spirit of Christmas or the smoke of Santa coming out of the fireplace, he said. Finally, one couple commented it was just a visually stunning work of art.
"I said, 'You're the first ones that really got it,' " David Hutchison said. "It really doesn't have a meaning. It's just a work of beauty."
Though originally designed for the holidays, David Hutchison said he and his wife now plan to keep the display up for several months after Christmas.