Press \\ Press Release

PEM’s collection inspires monumental drawing installation

Released October 28, 2022

Shelagh Keeley: Drawn to Place
On view November 5, 2022 through February 19, 2024

– The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents an exhibition featuring a multidisciplinary artist known for monumental site-specific wall drawings. The work of Canadian artist Shelagh Keeley includes photography, film, artist books and collaborative performances, all of which cohere through the act of drawing. The centerpiece of PEM’s newest exhibition is a commissioned 58-foot-long wall drawing, based in part on Keeley’s exploration of the Phillips Library and the museum’s important collection of Japanese art. Shelagh Keeley: Drawn to Place is on view at PEM from November 5, 2022 through February 19, 2024.

Shelagh Keeley, Photo by Trevor Smith/PEM.

“For Shelagh Keeley, drawing is a way to slow down the act of perception to explore the structural essence of an object and the spirit of a space or institution. Her work is more in the tradition of meditation than a depiction of surface appearances,” said Trevor Smith, Associate Director of PEM’s Multisensory Experience and Curator of the museum’s Present Tense Initiative. “For Keeley, drawing is not just for transcribing what the eye sees or the mind knows. She draws to register what the body feels and understands.”

Keeley has become familiar with PEM’s collections over the course of nearly ten years and several visits. “She draws on those experiences to create her work very much in the moment, reflecting on the space she is in, welcoming spontaneity and accident into her work,” said Smith.

Shelagh Keeley’s tools, Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

PEM is one of many places the artist has made lasting connections in her travels. Keeley has been visiting since 2013, spending time with PEM’s Phillips Library collection and incubating ideas for her installation project. “As one of the oldest libraries in North America, the holdings of the Phillips Library are incredible,” she said. “All over the world, libraries are under attack as a space for knowledge and freedom. I want my piece to speak to that because libraries were always a refuge for me when I was young.”

Shunkei Mori, Shunkei's Insects, about 1905. Woodblock-printed book. Gift of Lawrence W. Jenkins, before 1962. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Rowley, MA.

Keeley has made several extensive research trips to Japan, finding her inspiration in the zen gardens and architecture of Kyoto. The artist shares that cultural interest in Japan with PEM as an institution. In addition to Keeley’s wall drawing, the exhibition will include works from PEM’s collection, including tea bowls and utensils, woodblock-printed books and selected pages from the diary kept by Edward Sylvester Morse while visiting Japan in the 19th century. Morse, one of the museum’s early directors, also took great inspiration from the form and function of Japanese objects. Toward the end of the 19th century, as director of the Peabody Academy of Science (a predecessor institution to PEM), Morse spent extensive time researching in Japan and helped create the museum’s remarkable Japanese collection.

A companion publication will be available May 2023.

High-resolution images are available upon request.

Share your impressions with us on social media using #DrawntoPlace


  • Shelagh Keeley, ideas brushing against ideas / the library as refuge, Commissioned by the Peabody Essex Museum, 2022. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
  • Shelagh Keeley, Photo by Trevor Smith/PEM.
  • Shelagh Keeley’s tools, Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
  • Shunkei Mori, Shunkei's Insects, about 1905. Woodblock-printed book. Gift of Lawrence W. Jenkins, before 1962. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Rowley, MA.
  • Shelagh Keeley, Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

Shelagh Keeley: Drawn to Place
is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum. The exhibition is made possible by the generosity of Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation. Additional support was provided by individuals who support the Exhibition Incubation Fund: Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard, James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes, Kate and Ford O'Neil, and Henry and Callie Brauer. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Shelagh Keeley, Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

Shelagh Keeley lives and works in Toronto. At the core of Shelagh Keeley’s work is a drawing practice based on an embodied response to readings and research in poetry, politics, film and architecture. Throughout her 40-year international career, her practice has been focused on a vast body of drawing that expanded beyond the studio to create on-site, ephemeral wall drawings. Keeley’s recent projects have been presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto (2020), Vancouver Art Gallery (2017); IFA Gallery, Stuttgart, Germany (2017); National Gallery of Canada (2017); MoMA Library and Archives, New York (2015); The Power Plant, Toronto (2014); and Ryerson Image Center, Toronto (2013). Keeley has also been part of a large number of international group shows including Unfinished Conversation: Encoding/Decoding at Museu Coleccao Berardo, Lisbon (2016) and The Power Plant, Toronto (2015); In Order to Join – The Political in a Historical Moment at Museum Abteiberg Mönchengladbach, Germany (2013) and Goethe Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai, India (2015). In 2013, Keeley created a collaborative book project with refugee children entitled Desire to Join and published by Museum Abteiberg Mönchengladbach, Germany (2013). Her work is in many public collections and international museums including MoMA, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Les Musées de la Ville de Paris; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; Bibliotheques Nationale de France, Paris; The Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Getty Museum, Santa Monica; Harvard Art Museums, Boston; The Library of Congress, Washington; Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Monchengladbach, Germany; and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

In 1992, the Stephen Phillips Library of the Peabody Museum and the James Duncan Phillips Library of the Essex Institute merged to create the Phillips Library, a unique research institution with deep ties to local, regional, national and international art, culture, history and literature. Its holdings focus on rare books and manuscripts, including logbooks from Salem ships that traveled the world and important collections relating to China, India, Japan and Korea. The library also preserves important documents from the history of Salem, Essex County and the greater United States. Over the years, library collections have featured in and supported PEM exhibitions. Researchers rely on the Phillips Library to write dissertations, scholarly books and articles, and popular best-sellers. A series of changing exhibitions share these extraordinary collections to experience a glimpse into the breadth of the library’s holdings and the connections that can be made. The library public reading room in Rowley is open to the public.

Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind, boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time — including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, Native American, Oceanic, Asian, and African art, as well as one of the nation’s most important museum-based collections of rare books and manuscripts. PEM's campus offers a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities and performance spaces. Twenty-two noted historic structures grace PEM’s campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States. HOURS: Open Thursday–Monday, 10 am–5 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. ADMISSION: Adults $20; seniors $18; students $12. Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission. INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit

Amelia Kantrovitz | Exhibition Publicist | | 617-794-4964