The Life of Objects

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

The Life of Objects


Words, words, words! The power of print demonstration

18 - 19 April 2017 (11.30am and 2.30pm)

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

Duration: 20 minutes

Audience: Ages nine and above

Location: Level 1, The John Rylands Library

Forget me not: Keepsakes

20 April 2017 (2pm - 4pm)

Keepsake; a small item kept in memory of the person who gave it or originally owned it. Pop in and create your own keepsake to remind you of your trip to the Library at this fun and friendly family workshop.

Duration: 2 hours

Audience: Family workshop, ages five and above

Location: Atrium, The John Rylands Library


14 - 23 April 2017 (All day)

Get into character with our selection of hats inspired by the famous owners of the items being shown in ‘The Life of Objects’ exhibition. Strike a pose and share your photos with us on social media #JRLObjects.

Audience: Families

Location: Historic Entrance, 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.