Obituary — James William Craven


James William Craven (“Jim”) was born Oct. 17, 1931, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and died there at his home on Sept. 17, 2020. He was the younger son of George and Elsie Craven, immigrants from Yorkshire, England.

James William Craven
James William Craven

Craven graduated from Ann Arbor High School in 1949 and then entered an apprenticeship at the University of Michigan Bindery, beginning more than 62 years of employment with the university, the longest of any staff member. He served with the U.S. Army in Korea and Japan from 1951-54. 

Upon his return, Craven resumed work at the Bindery, completing a seven-year training program as a journeyman bookbinder and, in 1964, becoming its supervisor. In 1974, Craven took a newly-established position as restoration specialist, conservator and fine bookbinder at the Bentley Historical Library. He worked for the four university repositories for rare books and documents: Michigan Historical Collections, the William L. Clements Library, and the rare book collections of the graduate and law libraries. In this work he mentored many students and volunteers.

One of Craven’s most significant tasks was to lead the design and installation of a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory when the Bentley Library expanded. He gave popular tours of the laboratory, as well as lectures on conservation and antique book binding.

Upon his retirement in 2012, Craven was recognized by Francis Blouin Jr., then the director of the Bentley, as a “master craftsman … whose work was always impeccable to the very highest standards, worthy of the great treasures entrusted to us by the various libraries at the University.”

In addition to Craven’s work in document conservation, he developed specialized expertise in library disaster response. In 1981, after a fire destroyed the Economics Building, Craven supervised the complicated materials recovery process, utilizing vacuum chambers at U-M’s Aerospace Building and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, ultimately enabling the substantial recovery of many irreplaceable books and documents.

Craven had a beautiful tenor voice and sang throughout his life. While with the Ann Arbor High School Glee Club, he met his future wife, Barbara Cook. They were married in June 1953 and raised four children: William (Bill), Pamela, Jane and Karen. Barbara died in an accident in 1980. In 1982, Jim married Adele Laporte, a widow with three daughters: Claire, Irene and Marianne.

In the last years of his life Craven suffered from neurological conditions that affected his speech, vision and mobility. He handled these difficulties with dignity, acceptance and humor. Craven leaves his wife, Adele, his children and nine grandchildren. Due to the pandemic, observances of Craven’s death will be postponed until family and friends can safely gather.

Donations may be made to Food Gatherers, P.O. Box 31037, Ann Arbor, MI 48113,; or to the University of Michigan, 3003 S. State St., #8000, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48109, for the benefit of the William L. Clements Library Conservation Fund (319918) or the Neurology Research and Patient Care Fund (309334). Donations to the university can be made at or by telephone to 888-518-7888.


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