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Totem in pole position at iconic library

03 Mar 2009

The University of Manchester’s world-famous John Rylands Library has commissioned an 11-metre high piece of public art.

Artist Derek Hunt’s “Totem” was the top choice after judges waded through more than a hundred applications from across Britain, Europe and the United States.

Funded by the Oglesby Charitable Trust, the glass and steel sculpture will be installed in the Library’s new entrance wing close to the original 1890s building famed for its gothic architecture.

The Leicestershire-based artist’s design referred to the original Victorian colour scheme of the John Rylands Library’s architect Basil Champneys, as well as iconic images from the Library’s archive.

The £40,000 commission is a coup for the artist whose work is seen around the UK in mosques, churches, public buildings, theatres, schools and shopping centres.

He said: “I wanted to create a glass installation which would embody the spirit of the John Rylands Library, reflect and celebrate its many collections of rare books, manuscripts and archives, and help to create a sense of place.

“The design refers to some of the internationally famous collections within the Library, such as the St John Fragment, the earliest piece of the New Testament in existence, bought by the Library in 1920.

“I’m very pleased indeed to receive this commission.”

The glass structure will be assembled in 15 700mm by 700mm glass panels. It will also use antique glass etched, textured, sand blasted and shaped to fit the detail of the design.

Dr Stella Butler, Deputy University Librarian and Associate Director of the John Rylands Library, said: “The John Rylands Library is one of Manchester’s finest buildings, housing collections of international importance.

“The architecture, both old and new, is quite breathtaking.

“We are immensely grateful to the Oglesby Charitable Trust for generously funding what promises to be a remarkable piece of modern art, which will enhance visitors’ appreciation of the building and its collections.”

Michael Oglesby, Chairman of the Oglesby Charitable Trust, said: “We actively supported the recent Unlocking the Rylands project.

“We are therefore delighted to continue our relationship with the Library by sponsoring this art commission.

“The Oglesby Charitable Trust is committed to supporting the best of modern art in the North West.

“It would be difficult to imagine a more inspiring setting for any artwork than the atrium of the John Rylands Library.”

Notes for editors

Derek Hunt is available for comment

An image of his design is available.

The John Rylands University Library (JRUL) is part of The University of Manchester. Its research collections are world-famous and it was recently nominated one of five National Research Libraries by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The Library’s Special Collections are housed in the historic, Grade 1-listed John Rylands Library, on Deansgate in the heart of Manchester, which reopened in 2007 after a major three-year restoration and development project. It is open to the public free of charge.

The Library’s Special Collections are exceptionally important in a wide range of subject areas, and they were one of the first library collections to be designated by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council in 2005. Highlights include the St John Fragment, the earliest known piece of the New Testament in existence; breathtaking medieval manuscripts; outstanding early printed books, including arguably the best collection of Caxtons in the world; and a splendid array of materials in many formats – from clay tablets to compact discs – covering more than five thousand years of human endeavour.

The Oglesby Charitable Trust was established in 1992. The funding of the Trust comes from annual contributions from Bruntwood Limited, part of a group of North West based property investment companies owned by the founding Trustees that has a net worth of approximately £400 million. The Trust has been established to support charitable activities across a broad spectrum, and these reflect the beliefs and interests of the founding Trustee family. For more information visit

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