Book Conservator David Brock to retire

May 6, 2019
Kristen St.John
photo of David Brock, book conservator

After 20+ years of service to the Stanford Libraries, rare book conservator David Brock is retiring at the end of May. We are so happy to acknowledge the great contributions he has made to both the collections and the people of Stanford Libraries.

David, a Texas native, got his BA in Liberal Studies from Columbia College in Chicago. He received his training in bookbinding and conservation through a six year apprenticeship with Bill Anthony, a fine binder and a book conservator, also in Chicago.  He then moved to the Library of Congress where he spent five and a half years in the Book Conservation Lab.  In 1989 he went into private practice in San Diego. Over the next nine years he did work for institutions, private collectors, and fine presses. He also held a long-running monthly bookbinding class in Los Angeles for printers, book artists, bookbinding enthusiasts, and conservators.

In the early years of Stanford’s Conservation program, David was one of three conservators in the country that we could hire to outsource rare book conservation treatments. Department Head Eleanore Stewart began sending work to David in San Diego in 1990.

In 1996, Eleanore arranged for David to come up to Stanford on contract to work on materials here. Over the course of six months, David came up to work a couple weeks at a time so as to maintain his private clients out of San Diego as well. Around this time, Eleanore left Conservation to run the Replacement and Reformatting section of Preservation just as they were starting to get into digitization.  Maria Grandinette (then Preservation Officer at Hoover) took over as Head of the Conservation Department. Maria was very keen to get David full-time into the Conservation Department to fill out the team she was building up. David, however, was reluctant.

So Maria began a postcard campaign to recruit him. Based on time they had spent with David previously, Conservation staff (Maria, book conservator Beth Ryan and paper conservator Leslie Kruth) sent David a postcard every day exhorting him to join the Conservation Department at Stanford. Each postcard was sent in the “voice” of someone encouraging him to relocate and take the job. He received postcards from the likes of Pharaoh Sanders, Barry Bonds, the Oracle at Delphi, Governor of Texas Ann Richards, and the head of the Wallace Stevens Society. Eventually David was convinced to move up north and he came to Stanford in 1998.

In the following years, David treated many important volumes in our collections including: Postilla super librum Psalmorum by Nicholas of Lyra (a late 15th century chain binding), the Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones, Carleton Watkins’ Views of Thurlowe Lodge, and countless Camera Works issues. He has also done conservation work for the Cantor Arts Center and Legion of Honor of the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums.

His conservation treatment is outstanding. David lets the book speak for itself, retaining as much of the original binding as is possible while returning damaged books to useful condition. Conservators strive for minimal intervention. Doing less when conserving a book often is much more technically demanding than rebinding or recovering a book. David has developed techniques honoring this that are exceptionally subtle and effective.

David has also shared his skills through teaching. He’s worked with every staff member in the lab as well as interns from beyond our department. He’s led class sessions for courses in the Art, Chemistry, English, and Continuing Studies Programs demonstrating historical bookbinding techniques and discussing book structure.

He’s also taught beyond Stanford. He taught classes twice at the Paper and Book Intensive, instructed a month long intensive course at the former Preservation and Conservation Studies Program at the University of Texas at Austin, and led various workshops including one in 1994 at the Getty attended by Richenda Brim, our current Head of Preservation.

Along with his benchwork and teaching, David has been a wonderful colleague. He has maintained a tone of collegiality and respect in all of his dealings with people regardless of whether they were co-workers in the lab, library staff on campus, students on tour, or donors to the libraries. David approaches everyone with graciousness and interest.

David’s side interests are many. He’s a long time student of Japanese calligraphy and his work has been exhibited at the San Francisco Public Library. He travels frequently to Japan and has studied Japanese for many years. He’s also a stone carver. One of his carved alphabets was exhibited in the 2014 show “After Hours: Creative Pursuits of Stanford University Libraries Staff” in the Green Library Rotunda.

We wish David the best as he relocates to Virginia and thank him for his work, friendship, and kindness throughout the years.