[Table of Contents] [Search]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[BKARTS] Peter Waters Obituary

Apologies for cross listings

Obituary: Peter Waters

Peter Waters, age 73, former Conservation Officer for the Library of
Congress in Washington, died at home in Fairfield, Pennsylvania,
June 26, of heart failure due to complications from mesothelioma.  A
conservation administrator, fine bookbinder, book arts and design
expert, Waters was noted as a man of fiercely determined convictions
whose many innovations, personal interests and drive contributed
greatly to the maturity of the profession of library and archival
conservation.  He is widely acknowledged for the great influence he
had on generations of conservators both here and abroad.

In addition to many creative developments during his twenty-five
year career at the Library of Congress, Waters was perhaps best
known for his outstanding contributions to the fields of book
restoration and library materials preservation following natural
disasters that occurred in two major European centers of culture in
the late 1960s.  Waters devised a system for the repair and
restoration of thousands of priceless library treasures, including
the famed Magliabechi and Palatino collections, which were damaged
by floods that swept through the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale,
Florence, in November 1966.  He supervised some 120 persons
(initially students and volunteers, later replaced by Italian
workers who were being trained on the job) working in the book
restoration center that was established as an integral part of the
Florence national library.  Following floods in Lisbon the next
year, the Gulbenkian Foundation Museum Library there engaged Waters
as a consultant for its restoration efforts. An outgrowth of these
and related experiences was one of Waters' best known of many
publications, Procedures for Salvage of Water Damaged Library
Materials, first published in 1975 and subsequently translated into
Spanish, French, and Japanese.

A native of Woking, Surrey, England, Waters completed his secondary
education at the Goldsworth Modern School in his hometown in 1945.
From 1945 to 1949, Waters studied bookbinding under master craftsman
William Matthews as part of his general art studies at the Guildford
College of Art, Surrey.  He continued studies in graphic design,
lettering, and bookbinding at the Royal College of Art, South
Kensington, London, in 1949, and was awarded his Master's degree and
a Silver Medal special achievement award as an Associate of the
Royal College of Art upon his graduation in 1953.  Waters taught
bookbinding and lettering techniques part-time at the Farnham School
of Art, Surrey, and later was tutor in bookbinding at his alma
mater, where he also served on the Lion and Unicorn Press book team.

Waters enjoyed a twenty-two year professional association with Roger
Powell, another noted English bookbinder (known especially for his
restoration and rebinding, in  1953, of the famed Book of Kells) who
had also been a student of William Matthews many years earlier.
Waters spent four years as a student of Powell at the Royal College
of Art, followed by over fifteen years as his business partner,
working in their bindery at The Slade, Froxfield.  Their business
association began in 1955 when Waters, at age twenty-five succeeded
Powell as he retired from his part-time teaching position at the
Royal College of Art and continued until the Waters family
immigrated to the U.S. in 1971. The partnership of Peter Waters and
Roger Powell was responsible for the restoration of such rare
volumes as the Book of Durrow, the Books of Dimma and Armagh, and
the Lichfield Gospel (the Book of Chad) . Powell and Waters' study
of the Stonyhurst Gospel, a Coptic manuscript of the Gospel of St.
John, dating from the seventh century, revised previous opinions
regarding the binding of that rare volume. They offered convincing
evidence that the volume was in its original binding, rather than in
an 18th century binding as was previously supposed.  Waters produced
decorative bookbindings for many institutions such as the British
Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Aberdeen University
and Winchester College libraries, as well as for many private

In 1969, Waters became co-director with James Lewis of a research
effort aimed at investigation of some of the many problems involved
with library materials preservation resulting from the Florence
flood.  The project, funded by the Council on Library Resources,
Washington DC, and headquartered at the Imperial College, London,
focused on preservation issues such as mud and stain removal,
deacidification techniques, parchment and vellum repair, and related

In April 1971, the Library of Congress announced the appointment of
Peter Waters, "internationally known British book conservator,
restorer, and bookbinder," as the Library's first Restoration
Officer, later renamed Conservation Officer and Chief of the
Library's Conservation Division.  During the two preceding years,
Waters had commuted to Washington ten times for two week
consultations in order to design and set up the new state-of-the-art
conservation lab at the Library.  Prior to his retirement from the
Library in 1995, he also served as Preservation Strategic Planning
Officer from 1992 to 1994.  At the Library of Congress, Waters
inaugurated new concepts and programs relating to the conservation
of the Library's extensive collections of books, manuscripts, maps,
and other invaluable materials.  He is credited with development of
the Library's world-class, professionally trained conservation staff
and a conservation internship program that has had a critical
influence on the preservation field.  Many of the early hires and
interns who received advanced training in the Library's conservation
laboratory now hold prominent positions in other major institutions
and conservation businesses around the world.

In order to better plan treatment schedules for various special
collections at the Library of Congress, Waters devised in the 1980s
a time management system called the "point system," whereby the
Library's custodial divisions were assigned a budget of treatment
hours in a given year, which were responsibly committed through
ongoing liaison with senior conservators on his staff. The staff
recruited and trained by Waters became responsible for a full range
of treatment and preventive care activities for rare, intrinsically
valuable, bound and unbound materials in the Library's diverse
collections, including incunabula and other rare books, unbound
maps, atlases, globes, manuscripts, prints and drawings, posters,
photographs, and related artifacts.

Waters' philosophy was rooted in the Bauhaus tradition of "fitness
for purpose" in design, which, through his extensive knowledge of
book structure, found expression ranging from the binding of
individual rare books to the planning and administration of
comprehensive conservation measures, culminating in the
widely-followed concept of "phased preservation" that he first
introduced at the Library of Congress during the mid-seventies -
practices that have evolved into non-invasive conservation
strategies which are now generally described as "preventive
conservation" and are used throughout the library and museum
conservation world.

Other innovations credited to Waters include the introduction of
photographic conservation to the Library's preservation program and
customized boxing of damaged materials to buy time for later
conservation treatment.  Following a devastating fire in 1988 that
damaged or destroyed many 17th-19th century books at the Library of
the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, Russia, Waters visited
that institution many times to help it develop a phased preservation
program for collections that were seriously damaged.  This
culminated in the invention by Waters' middle son, Michael, of a new
computer-assisted box-making technology that made it possible to
produce custom-fitted, protective book boxes at minimum cost to
protect fire and water-damaged volumes.

Waters served for many years until his death as a member of the
National Archives Preservation Advisory Committee and on an advisory
board on preservation of the Charters of Freedom (U.S. Constitution,
Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights). He was a fellow of
the International Institute for Conservation and the American
Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and held
many consultancy positions dealing with recovery of fire and
water-damaged collections.

Just as Peter Waters is remembered today for his influence on the
careers of many professional conservators and preservation
administrators, he was quick to acknowledge others who had a major
influence on his own career, including William Matthews, Bernard
Middleton, Frazer Poole, Roger Powell, Philip Smith, and his wife
Sheila Waters, a noted calligrapher.  It is appropriate to remember
Waters with the same words of praise that he voiced over a decade
ago for his mentor and business partner in England: "The twin fields
of fine binding and library conservation owe him a great debt. While
mourning his passing, we must celebrate his long and fruitful life
and give thanks for what he has meant to us all."

Peter Waters died as he lived - working.  A man clearly dedicated to
hard work, determined, almost remorseless in his pursuits, he was,
up to a few hours from his death, laboring diligently to digitize
and index a massive slide collection that documents many of the
professional activities and accomplishments of his life. He will be
remembered for the kind and gentle man he was, greatly loved by all
who knew him.

Mr. Waters is survived by his wife Sheila; sons Julian, Michael, and
Chris; four grandchildren; and John Waters, a brother in England.

Consuela Metzger
Lecturer - Book Conservation
The University of Texas at Austin
School of Information
The Preservation/Conservation Studies Program
1 University Station D7000
Austin, TX 78712-1276
(512) 471-8293
(512) 471-8285 (fax)

    *Postings may not be re-printed in any form without the express
    consent of the author - Please respect their contributions & ©*

           BOOK_ARTS-L: The listserv for all the book arts.
     For subscription information, the Archive, and other related
           resources and links go to the Book_Arts-L FAQ at:

       Archive maintained and suppported by Conservation OnLine

[Subject index] [Index for current month] [Table of Contents] [Search]