Brass Art at Chetham’s Library


Project Info


  • Brass Art

Art Forms

  • Installation


  • Chetham's Library
  • Arts&Heritage
  • Arts Council England Museum Resilience Fund

Project Outline

Gestured is part of the Meeting Point programme.

Notes and scribbled drawings by Elizabethan alchemist John Dee have inspired collective Brass Art to create a new installation of artworks Gestured for Chetham’s, Britain’s oldest surviving public library.

Chara Lewis from Brass Art explains:

“Notes and drawings by 16th century alchemist John Dee, including sketches of apparatus for his experiments, and drawings of gesturing hands, were the starting point for the new pieces of work created for this installation and lead the audience on a very personal itinerary through the Library collection.

Chetham’s Library staff have revealed the fascinating books and illustrations in the collection, and shared their expertise on gestures and symbolism.”

John Dee (1527 – 1609/9) was an alchemist, polymath and advisor to Elizabeth I.

Working with experts from Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester University, Edinburgh College of Art and University of Huddersfield, Brass Art have translated gestures found in prints, marginalia and book illustration into new sculptural forms using traditional casting and 3D printing processes, to examine the role of gesture in historical and contemporary society.

Illustrations in the collection imagining the elemental forces that shaped the world have also provided the artists with a rich source of material for their sculptural and video works.

Chara Lewis added:

“The mysterious transformation of materials which fascinated Elizabethan alchemists has also inspired our work and we hope that people who see the installation will be drawn into the history and atmosphere of the library”

Chetham’s Library was founded in 1653 and is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world. Its collections range from illuminated manuscripts made for royalty through to documents which record the minutiae of everyday life such as letters, diaries and account books.


  • To raise the cultural profile of the library within the region, both using it as a resource and a place to show or experience new cultural work
  • Raise the profile of the site within the locality
  • Find new ways to engage visitors in the ancientness, magic and layers of history on site
  • To provide a more playful experience and encourage a longer dwell time


Arts&Heritage is supporting the ten museums participating in Meeting Point throughout the process, sharing knowledge of presenting contemporary art projects and commissions in non-traditional art spaces.

A networking event between the participating museums and 70 artists from across the UK took place at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and visits to artists’ studios were arranged. Museum teams also met with peers at other properties to learn how they successfully delivered contemporary art projects at their museums and heritage sites.

All museums developed their own Artist’s Brief. Following the networking event artists were invited to send in an expression of interest to museums that interested them.

Four artists were shortlisted by each museum to draw up a more detailed proposal and were paid £500 each.


  • Over 1,000 people attended events and visited the exhibition
  • Visitors spent longer than usual at the Library during the exhibition
  • Chetham’s have worked on other artist projects since Gestured
  • Running the events helped staff to gain insight about how their space can be used and to programme for different audiences. This learning will be useful when planning future activities

‘Wonderful to look and see the place afresh with the wonderful artworks woven throughout’ exhibition visitor

‘Stunning to see these works by torchlight at night – a wonderful and unique experience!’ evening event visitor

The Artist

Brass Art is Chara Lewis, Kristin Mojsiewicz and Anneke Pettican, based in Manchester, Glasgow and Huddersfield, UK.

Select exhibitions include: xCoAx National Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC), Lisbon, Portugal (2017); Cultural R>evolution Connecting Spaces, Hong Kong (2016); Brass Art: Freud’s House International 3, Manchester (2015); The Festival of the Unconscious The Freud Museum, London (2015); Thought Positions in Sculpture HAG (2015); The Imagining of Things HAG (2013); Flights of Fancy Tatton Park Biennial (2012); Dark Matters The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (2011); Skyscraping Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2008); The Jerwood Drawing Prize, London (2008).

Brass Art has received numerous awards and funding, including: Arts Council England, British Council, Association of Art Historians, Lottery funding and the AHRC. Brass Art is an invited artist member of the Contemporary Art Society, and currently represented by the International3, Manchester.