The Life of Objects

A collection of curious objects, each with a tale to tell.

The Life of Objects


Don’t miss our summer holiday programme at The John Rylands Library which is inspired by The Life of Objects exhibition.

Discover more about the people behind the objects and explore our relationship to objects and their connection to our past and future.

Words, words, words! The power of print demonstration

- 28 July, 4 Aug, 11 Aug, 30 Aug (11.30am)

- 18 Aug, 25 Aug, 1 Sept (11.30am and 2.30pm)

- 31 July, 7 Aug, 14 Aug, 21 Aug (2.30pm)

See our Eagle printing press in action. Find out more about the history of printing and be inspired by the words from The Life of Objects exhibition.

Duration: 20 minutes

Audience: Ages nine and above

Location: Level 1, The John Rylands Library

Forget me not: Keepsakes

24 August 2017 (2pm - 4pm)

A Keepsake is a small item kept in memory of the person who gave it or originally owned it. Create your own keepsake to remind you of your trip to the Library.

Duration: 2 hours

Audience: Ages five and above

Location: Atrium, The John Rylands Library

"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also"

3 August, 17 August, 24 August 2017 (2pm - 4pm)

Where do you keep your most treasured things? Join us for this family-friendly workshop and make your own decorated box to hide away your most precious possessions.

Duration: 2 hours

Audience: Ages five and above

Location: Atrium, The John Rylands Library

Collections Encounter: Friendship

27 July 2017 (2pm - 3pm)

The Library is home to the archives of Li Yuan chia and Dom Sylvester Houedard. Featured in The Life of Objects exhibition discover how these two artists grew together through their love of art.

Duration: 1hr (drop in)

Audience: Ages 11 and above

Location: Historic Reading Room, The John Rylands Library

Film Season: Objects of Desire

Experience the Library at night and join us for a series of films that explore our desire for things and people.

20 July, 17 August, 23 September 2017 (6pm - 8pm)

Audience: Ages 18 and over

Location: The John Rylands Library


We all have personal connections to objects, we interpret them in different ways depending on our own histories and life events. Despite being owned by prolific figures, the objects featured within the exhibition tell universal stories of love, birth, death and friendship. We talked to some of the people behind the exhibition to see which objects particularly resonate with them and why.



The Life of Objects

Libraries have long been guardians of the written word. Yet at The John Rylands Library, words are only part of the picture - as our latest exhibition illustrates.

The Life of Objects could be described as an exhibition of the unexpected. Instead of books and manuscripts, it showcases some of the more unusual objects in our collection. And, although humble – the objects range from a beaded bag to a battered pair of baby shoes – each of these objects has its own tale to tell.

That bag, for example, describes both literary celebrity and unrequited love. It belonged to Mary Chaworth, best known for spurning the advances of the scandalous and brilliant poet, Lord Byron. The baby shoes, meanwhile, speak of a boy from Stalybridge, who became a much-heralded poet – until an AIDS-related virus killed Adam Johnson at the age of just 28.

"These objects might have come to us alongside books but they’re intriguing in their own right," says exhibition curator, Stella Halkyard. "They’re linked to people who have made their mark on history, and they help us get closer to the writers, artists and theologians to whom they belonged. Yet while they tell quite personal stories, they also sum up those big, universal themes of life and death, love or inspiration."

With a selection of objects linked to figures as diverse as 20th century composer Delia Derbyshire, the preacher John Wesley and the artist Li Yuan chia, this is an exhibition whose stories leap across history, geography and gender – and rewards time spent uncovering the subtle connections between them.

But the exhibition does something else, too. It challenges the idea that libraries are simply about books. "Technology, social media, the age of science: all of these things mean that images now matter as much as text. We tell stories in a much more visual way than in the past, which means that objects can speak to us as eloquently as words." So while The John Rylands Library will remain a literary guardian, it is now also, as Stella puts it, "a space to feel things, as well as to learn".

The Life of Objects, 16 March to 27 August 2017, free entry. Follow us @thejohnrylands or tag your posts #jrlobjects.