Colours, Community & Chemistry exhibition

CCC exhibition logo cropped lo res

Colours, Community & Chemistry was a 17-week exhibition at the People’s History Museum on the Salford-Manchester border in Northwest England.

22,571 visitors saw the exhibition and took part in events between 8th October 2014 and 18th January 2015. Collaborators, participants and visitors came from Australia, India, North and South America, the Midlands, London, and across the UK.

Blue at window  med 2 IMG_6894
Giant window vinyl featuring skeins of artificial silk, installed in the Engine Room at the People’s History Museum, office buildings showing outside

A collaboration between regional artists, archivists and scientists, anyone was welcome to share their stories. Read Jenny White’s blog about her Big-Up Female Boffins banner (hemmed by Oly Bliss) and some of the visitors’ craftivist creations here.

Five events were jointly programmed by Manchester Science Festival.

ARTIFICIAL SILK made a series of short audio recordings called Stories of the North during the exhibition.

The Colours, Community and Chemistry exhibition had five events in Manchester Science Festival 2014:

1. Big-Up Female Boffins – 26th October
2. Macromolecular Marvels – 29th October
3. Blue Pigment Spectra – 29th October
4. Making North – 1st November
5. Colouring Art and Science – 2nd November

Camilla and Alison phm 3 medCamilla and Alison launched the exhibition in 2014

Camilla Mørk Røstvik gave a talk about women in science. In the UK, only 13% of scientists and 17% of professors of science are female. At the CERN research centre near Geneva, women represent 17% of the total number of scientists.

Young children and their families and other visitors interpreted Camilla Rostvik’s data on women in science through vinyl shapes, colours and glue (and a few irresistible pompoms).

Photo of 2 girls and Mum

Craftivists Warp & Weft made the Big-Up Female Boffins banner and jointly ran some events.

Jenny White recorded: A story from Kathleen Ollerenshaw about Manchester’s Shirley Institute for cotton research

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 14.25.31

Students and families took part in experimentation by Dr Frank Mair, University of Manchester.


The chemist made artificial threads in the Community Gallery and analysed a filament of blue pigmented 1970s Lancashire artificial silk (also called viscose or rayon) with a spectrometer. Artificial silk is made from the pulp in the wood of fir trees.

Macromolecular Marvels 29.10.14 crop small

We were able to see the macromolecular picture, including the amount of cellulose in one filament of artificial silk.

blue rayon spectro

Below is a rayon spectrum created at the exhibition by microscopic analysis of the blue pigmented skein (twist) of filaments:

Rayon spectra B6dmS-oCQAINqQW copy

Some young women wanting to work in STEM research got involved.

Stem Emily pic CCC

Jean Crossthwaite recorded: Make do and sew

Textile archivist Lyn Broster gave a lecture on vintage textiles and Eleanor McClure ran a colour perception workshop at the final event in 2015. Eleanor also designed the logo.

overhead last event
Final event: craft, vintage textiles and socialising

William Grundy recorded: Exploding colours at ICI

Hazel Blears, MP for Salford Eccles and previously Secretary of State, made a short film especially for the exhibition.

John Monks for Artsilk and WordPress  WEB finalJohn Monks, ex General Secretary of the TUC, looking round the exhibition.

Here is a flavour of visitor experiences in the exhibition book:


Thumbs up

writing diary

CCC shade name

CCC ex comment

colour mood challenge

Big Up comment

Eve McPhee gave valuable advice at the very beginning, for which we are grateful. Nigel Barlow graciously tweeted, and managed the social media.

It took us two days to set up the exhibition in the Community Gallery at the People’s History Museum.

The cherry picker moves into the gallery
Josh and Mark using the cherry picker to install the window vinyls in the Engine Room








macaroons on window
Others windows featured coloured macaron biscuits in the shades of rayon produced…
Blue at window Cmed CC
…and skeins of blue artificial silk

Jean Crossthwaite doing titration analysis in the lab, 1951 WPFrom the age of 16 Jean Boyle (pictured in 1951 doing titrations) worked as an analytical chemist in the laboratory.

Jean  took part in Colours, Community & Chemistry at the People’s History Museum. She contracted Covid-19 and died at the end of 2020.

Read Jean Boyle’s Other lives obituary published in The Guardian on 10th February 2021.

Read Terry Boyle’s Other Lives obituary in The Guardian on 30th August 2021.

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