Traditionally, we think of stories as written down in books and manuscripts, or passed along by word of mouth. But if we’ve learned anything from BBC One’s Sherlock series, it’s that objects have their tales to tell, too. This is the premise behind The John Rylands Library’s new exhibition, The Life of Objects: instead of showcasing the usual, paper bound artifacts in the library’s collection, curator Stella Halkyard has drawn together a selection of things that were owned or used by notable writers, artists and theologians, including Elizabeth Gaskell’s quill pens, ink well and letter knife, horse bone portraits of preacher and reformer John Wesley, and the lining of Walt Whitman’s hat.
“These objects might have come to us alongside books and archives but they’re intriguing in their own right,” argues Halkyard. “They’re linked to people who have made their mark on history, and they help us to get closer to the people to whom they belonged.” Arranged into the wide-reaching themes of birth and death, childhood, love, inspiration, work, friendship and legacy, the objects on display help to trace the histories of the people who owned them; a bag (or ‘reticule’) owned by Mary Chaworth, once object of Byron’s adoration, illuminates Chaworth’s personal taste, whilst also marking a moment in fashion history (‘reticules’ were designed when empire-line dresses didn’t accommodate pockets).