A PUBLIC art trail to celebrate the life of Jane Austen in and around Basingstoke has launched.

The Wild in Art event, delivered by Destination Basingstoke in association with Festival Place, will see 25 benches in the shape of books, designed by artists, dotted around the town in the summer next year, forming part of a worldwide celebration of the Sense and Sensibility author’s life.

The project is part of a wider celebration by Hampshire Cultural Trust to commemorate Austen in 2017, marking 200 years since her death.

Destination Basingstoke is now calling for artists to submit inspirational designs with a Jane Austen theme for the Sitting With Jane project, which will be painted on to a template ‘BookBench’ that acts as a 3D canvas.

The street furniture will be located in and around places Austen knew and landscapes that influenced her.

Sally Ann Wilkinson, director of Wild in Art, which has worked on similar events across the world, said: “We look forward to a wide range of designs and different interpretations of all aspects of Jane Austen’s important contribution to literature being brought to life and celebrated by artists.”

Sitting With Jane launched in Festival Place on Monday when one of the benches designed for the trail was unveiled.

Steven Connolly, director of Festival Place, said: “Jane Austen is an important but rarely celebrated part of this area’s history and this hidden gem is something we should be inspired by – her novels, characters and their themes are just as relevant today. She used to shop in Basingstoke, and as a modern woman in her own time, I am sure she would have appreciated what Festival Place has to offer today.”

Basingstoke artist Sian Storey was at the event to showcase her BookBench design, featuring a golden peacock, which appears on the first editions of Pride and Prejudice.

She said: “It’s very exciting to be involved. It brings your work to a new audience.”

Councillor Terri Reid, the borough council’s deputy leader, said: “Along with recognising the importance of Basingstoke in the Jane Austen story it will undoubtedly bring visitors to the town which will boost tourism and the local economy for the area.”

Basingstoke MP Maria Miller added: “Jane Austen is one of the world’s most important novelists and Basingstoke and Deane was her home. Sitting With Jane celebrates this link and the rich history of our borough.”

The project will be funded through sponsorship, and businesses interested in getting involved should contact Destination Basingstoke or visit sittingwithjane.com.

The benches will be auctioned to raise money for Ark Cancer Centre Charity.