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St John's College Oxford, St John's Primer

St John’s College commissioned Mary Lum to create a tapestry artwork for its new Library and Study Centre, designed by Wright & Wright Architects. 

The work, 'St John's Primer' created for the space at the stairwell, outside the Laudian Library, takes its inspiration from the context of the Library, its architectural design and setting.


Mary Lum explains the inspiration for 'St John’s Primer' :

‘An introduction to the St. John’s library collection of rare books and manuscripts, comprising fragments of texts and symbols from many languages, fields of study, cultures and time periods.

The tapestry speaks to the importance of the written word, how texts are put together, how they endure over time, and how meaning can be lost, transformed, or expanded.  It invites viewers to read in individual ways that prioritize how language looks, as well as what it says.'




The approach to site specific artist commissioning has been led by the vision of the College’s presidents, bursars and art panel members, working with Modus Operandi, and supported by its architects, who have generously afforded opportunities for other creative minds.


The commission forms an important addition to the collection of notable contemporary artworks for the College, which include, also commissioned in 2022, Susan Morris' 'Silence (on Prepared Loom)', preceeded by earlier commissions by Kirsty Brooks - ‘Otranto Passage Artwork’ and Susanna Heron’s ‘Stone Drawing’ both of which were commissioned as part of the first phase of the New Library. The contemporary art collection includes earlier commissions by Wendy Ramshaw, Alexander Beleschenko, Langlands & Bell and Ian Monroe, all curated by Modus Operandi.  



Mary Lum

Title of work

'St John's Primer'


University of Oxford


Wright & Wright Architects





Image credit

Image by Stephen White & Co